Let’s go bowling, we hope!

Published 8:11 pm Friday, October 18, 2019

At the halfway mark in the college football season, while everyone focuses on the Alabama’s, Clemson’s, LSU’s, and Ohio State’s, a couple of teams much closer to home have quietly snuck within sniffing distance of a post-season bowl bid.

Both UNC and ECU are 3-3 with six games remaining in the season. Three more wins – probably four for the Pirates – and they would both be – dare I say it!?! – Bowl eligible.

East Carolina has equaled its entire win total for the past two seasons already under the new regime of head coach Mike Houston. In fact, this is their best six-game start since 2015.

While Houston – and who can blame him – feels that despite the break-even mark, his team’s record should be better, to have won a trio of games, based of where this program came from, is a marked improvement.

Still, the Pirate ship hasn’t quite sailed out of troubled waters; there is still a long way to navigate. That was evidenced by last Thursday night’s loss to Temple, a great example of how far the program still has to go.

Right now, the Bucs are halfway to six wins and that’s enough to get the Pirate faithful thinking about spending the holidays in Boca Raton, Tampa, Birmingham, or even Frisco, Texas.

Word has it that ECU would have to obtain a waiver to go to a bowl at 6-6, because two of the wins would be over FCS opponents. You can blame Virginia Tech and the ‘hurricane cancellation’ from last year.

Of their six remaining games, four are winnable. Maybe not this weekend against Central Florida (well, Pitt from the ACC did pull off the upset of UCF last month!), because beating the Knights in Orlando at the Citrus Bowl will not be an easy task for an undersized crew like ECU has.

What they do have a chance against is closing out October with a home game against South Florida, and then hosting Cincinnati to open the month of November. ECU will finish out the regular season with road games at SMU and UConn followed by a home game against Tulsa.

They should take care of USF, the Huskies, and the Hurricanes; but, SMU (6-0), Cincinnati (5-1), and the Knights will be a tougher task.

Maybe as surprising, if not more so, is Carolina’s 3-3 record. Sure, he doesn’t want to settle for mediocrity, but I’ll bet the ranch if you’d have told Mack Brown his team would be where they are, based on their schedule, I believe he’ll take it.

After reaching a somewhat surprising .500 overall mark and 2-1 ACC record, the Heels took two weeks to regroup, heal up, and prepare to make a run at the Coastal Division title, which I still believe is a toss-up (sorry, Virginia!). North Carolina’s “bye” week came smack dab in the middle of their season, and starting today (Saturday, Oct. 19), they’ll face Virginia Tech (away), Duke and Virginia at Kenan Stadium, Pitt (away), Mercer (home), and NC State (away). With how UNC has played so far, it’s completely comprehensible that they can run the table at 6-0, or more realistically, 5-1. I’m going to leave all options on this same table.

Throw out the Clemson loss and with two division wins already (Miami and Georgia Tech), the path to the ‘bowling alley’ got shorter to knocking down those ten-pins.

A win against the Hokies will mean 3-1 in the division with three in the loop left to play. I’m making Mercer a ‘gimme’, and that leaves NC State with a chance to play spoiler. Put Duke and (hopefully!) Virginia in the win-column and I see a return trip to Charlotte (the Belk Bowl!) as a Mack Brown Christmas present.

Of course, all this is speculative with both the Blue-and-White and the Purple-and-Gold, but as someone way smarter’n me (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) once wrote: “We ain’t what we oughta be, we ain’t what we want to be, and we ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.