East Carolina has made eight bowl appearances in the last nine years. The Pirates registered two wins against top-25 opponents last year, defeating No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 25 North Carolina in nonconference play. East Carolina, which fell to Florida in the Birmingam Bowl last season, has a rematch with the Gators in the second game of the 2015 season.
East Carolina will have to replace the potent tandem of QB Shane Carden, who was the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and WR Justin Hardy, the NCAA career receptions leader. QB Kurt Benkert, who saw action in three games in 2014, is expected to take over as the starter. WR Isaiah Jones was the team’s second-leading receiver last year with 81 receptions for 830 yards and five touchdowns. RB Chris Hairston was second on the team in rushing last season (528 yards, two TDs) and is primed to take over as the starter. OT Ike Harris, OG J.T. Boyd and TE Bryce Williams all earned second-team all-conference honors last year.
The Pirates return fiver starters from last year’s defense. LB Zeek Bigger led the American Athletic Conference in tackles in 2014 (140) and was a second team all-conference selection. LB Montese Overton had 68 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. DE Johnathon White is the lone returning starter from last year on the defensive line, but the Pirates should receive a boost from the return of DE Terrell Stanley. Stanley was a starter in 2013 who missed all of last season while recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident. CB Josh Hawkins had five interceptions, which ranked third in The American, and was second in the conference with 11 pass breakups.
The Pirates will have to find a new man at placekicker following the departure of Warren Harvey. K Davis Plowman saw limited action last season. P Worth Gregory, a transfer from Alabama, averaged 43.6 yards per punt, which would have put him among atop the conference leaders had he enough punts to qualify. Isaiah Jones served as the primary kickoff return specialist last year. The Pirates will need to fill the void left by Justin Hardy, who doubled as the main punt returner.