07/17/08 — Pirates selected second in CUSA East

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Pirates selected second in CUSA East

Published in Sports on July 17, 2008 1:20 PM

IRVING, Texas -- Conference USA coaches have predicted Hawai'i Bowl champion East Carolina to finish second in East Division play in 2008.

The Pirates picked up 60 of a possible 72 points in ballots submitted by the league's 12 head coaches. East Carolina logged an 8-5 worksheet last season and scored 30-plus points in six of its last seven CUSA contests.

Defending CUSA champion UCF was picked to claim the East Division crown, while Tulsa is tabbed to rule the West Division. Both teams played for the CUSA championship in 2007.

East Carolina is coming off back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1999-2000, and returns both quarterbacks. Patrick Pinkney and Rob Kass will vie for the starting spot again. Pinkney played in all 13 games and made five starts, while Kass appeared in 10 contests and had seven starts.

Senior defensive lineman Zack Slate leads a trio of Pirates on the preseason All-CUSA squad. Also included are fellow defensive lineman C.J. Wilson and offensive lineman Doug Palmer. Wilson and Palmer are juniors.

Rounding out the East Division poll behind UCF and ECU were Southern Miss (49 points), Memphis (36), Marshall (27) and UAB (13). Southern Miss will have a new coach this season after Jeff Bowers resigned. However, the Eagles return the reigning CUSA defensive player of the year Gerald McRath. He averaged 10.7 tackles per game in 2007.

The Golden Eagles' Damion Fletcher was selected the CUSA preseason offensive player of the year. Fletcher rambled for 1,586 yards in 2007 and has 16 100-yard rushing games in his collegiate career.

In the West, Houston is picked second behind Tulsa. Completing the six-team division are UTEP (42 points), Rice (32), SMU (29) and Tulane (18).

UTEP officially opens the CUSA season Aug. 28 at Buffalo. The league's first televised contest is the following evening when Rice entertains West Division foe SMU on ESPN.

Seven teams open their respective seasons Aug. 30, including East Carolina, which entertains defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia Tech before an ESPN audience in Charlotte.