East Carolina Goes For Second Big Upset In As Many Weeks
by Robert Ferringo - 09/05/2008
Players get in The Zone. Teams get in The Bubble. And all week I've been wondering: "Is East Carolina in The Bubble?"
What is "The Bubble"? The Bubble is that magical land where beer flows like wine and where momentum and adrenaline pump through the blood of players, coaches, and fans alike. The Bubble is a special place, and when teams are in it they can do no wrong, feel no pain, and lose no game. Spreads are incidental when a team enters The Bubble. Any sense of logic, proportion, reason, normalcy, or common decency is thrown overboard in The Bubble. It is madness, it is chaos, and it can either be the best friend or the worst enemy of any sports bettor.
A perfect example of The Bubble in college football can be found last year with the Connecticut Huskies. In 2007 the Huskies played three straight home games against Louisville, South Florida, and Rutgers, supposedly three of the best teams in the Big East and, prior to the season, considered among the Top 40 in the nation. Connecticut caught fire, winning all three games as underdogs and earning a pretty penny for any brave enough to back them. Everything went right during those three weeks: fluke plays, weird turnovers, bizarre weather, sloppy play by the opponents, and generous calls from the officials. The momentum on that campus was palpable and the players floated on it from one Saturday to the next. Fates had spoken: UConn was going to win (and cover) all three games and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
East Carolina pulled an pretty wild upset of Virginia Tech over the weekend, winning the game on a late blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Now, the win can't be completely surprising to anyone who follows football in this part of the country. ECU played Tech tough last year in Blacksburg, in one of the most emotionally charged openers in college football history (following the tragic Va. Tech shooting spree that spring). ECU lost by 10 in that game, and were facing an inferior Hokies club last weekend. Hence, a win and a cover.
Well, right about now there is a pretty special buzz ringing through the corridors of East Carolina University as the team prepares for West Virginia this weekend. Again, the Pirates are underdogs. And again they are playing with the benefit of a favorable crowd that can add extra fuel to their fire. And, finally, again they are playing a madly overrated team that is not nearly as good as they were when the clubs met in 2007.
Last year West Virginia absolutely dominated ECU in Morgantown, winning, 48-7, as 24-point favorites and outgaining the Pirates, 600-150, in total yards. Yes, that read 600-150. However, ECU actually played the Mountaineers pretty tough in 2005 and 2006, covering both games as huge underdogs. In 2005 they lost by just five points at home as a 22-point dog and in 2006 they lost 27-10 on the road as 21-point puppies.
This ECU team looks a little older and a little wiser. They actually have more returning starters (16 to 12) than West Virginia and have a tremendous edge on defense. ECU welcomed back a ridiculous 18 of its top 20 tacklers from last year, while WVU returned just four of its top 13. Further, this game is on grass, which may seem like a small detail but is definitely a more familiar and advantageous surface for ECU.
Can East Carolina pull another upset against a Top 20 team this week? I'm not sure. Either they suffer the letdown that folks seem to be expecting or they find another gear and enter The Bubble, playing above themselves for another week and going toe-to-toe with the Mountaineers. I do know that they opened as 10-point underdogs but have seen that number slide down to eight. Is that reality? Is it wishful thinking? Again, I can't tell you for sure.
But I will say this: when it comes to The Bubble there are only two ways to play it: either completely avoid these games and quietly walk around, or let yourself be absorbed into it and prepare for a wild bonanza of Fortune and tomfoolery.
Carpe diem, and good luck.