WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
RANKING: ECU not ranked
SERIES: USC leads 12-5
LAST TIME: In 2012, USC won 48-10 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
KEY PLAYER: Quarterback Shane Carden. The senior had a stellar junior campaign. He passed for 4,139 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and completed over 70 percent (387-of-549) of his passes. He could give a young, inexperienced USC secondary headaches.
UNSUNG PLAYER: WR Justin Hardy. Carden might have grabbed the attention, but Hardy was just as impressive as a receiver last season. The senior had 114 receptions for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns. The Pirates arguably have the best receiving corps in the AAC.
BEST FRESHMAN: Running back Anthony Scott. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound speedster from Virginia Beach, Va., could find his way into the ECU rotation at running back. The backfield has retooled after the departure of Vintavious Cooper, and Scott will be given an opportunity to see if he can carry the load. He rushed for over 2,200 yards as a high school senior and chose the Pirates over Old Dominion and Virginia Tech.
AREA OF CONCERN: While the offense returns plenty of experience, the defense must find a replacement for seven starters. The defensive line should be the cornerstone of the group, but the Pirates must replace three linebackers and three defensive backs from a unit that ranked 36th nationally last season. They bring back a little more than half of last year’s tackles, which ranks 113th in FBS.
ODD STAT: East Carolina has had its share of success, but last season’s 10-3 mark was the Pirates’ second double-digit win season. The Pirates won six of their final seven games, including a 37-20 win over Ohio in the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl. The only only other double-digit win season was 1991, when ECU went 11-1. The Pirates defeated South Carolina 31-20 at home that season.
COACH FACTOID: Ruffin McNeill is entering his fifth season with the Pirates. The former defensive back at East Carolina took over for Skip Holtz after the 2009 season. There were rumbles of letting McNeill go after ECU went 11-14 his first two seasons, but the Pirates are 18-8 the past two seasons.
NEW SURROUNDINGS: East Carolina was a member of Conference USA last season and now is in its first season in the AAC. The Pirates aren’t unfamiliar with their new conference-mates. They faced Tulane and Tulsa last season and have been a regular opponent of UCF, Cincinnati, Temple and Connecticut. ECU is 57-34 against current members of the AAC.
KEY GAME: Oct. 4, SMU. The Pirates will be coming off of a three-game stretch where they face the Gamecocks, Virginia Tech and North Carolina in September. They will open the AAC portion of their schedule with the Mustangs, who are coming off of a 5-7 season and no postseason bowl game for the first time in five seasons. The winner of this one gets a leg up in who might challenge the trio of Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston in the AAC.
Compiled by Chris Dearing