07/18/13 — Pirates picked to win C-USA East Division football crown

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Pirates picked to win C-USA East Division football crown

By ECU Sports Information
Published in Sports on July 18, 2013 1:47 PM

IRVING, Texas -- Coming off its sixth bowl appearance in the last seven years, East Carolina has been tabbed the Conference USA East Division favorite by the league's 14 head coaches in a poll conducted Wednesday morning.

The Pirates picked up 11 of 14 first place votes for a total of 95 points to finish ahead of Marshall (82) and Middle Tennessee (70), both of which also garnered first-place votes.

Defending C-USA champion Tulsa was chosen unanimously as the preseason favorite to win the West Division accumulating 98 total points. Rice (76) and new conference member Louisiana Tech (72) came in second and third, respectively.

The league's ninth annual CUSA championship game is Dec. 7.

ECU, which fashioned an 8-5 overall record and shared the East Division title last season, returns 16 of 22 positional starters -- eight on each side of the football. The Pirates also welcome back 76 percent of their rushing yards, 88 percent of their passing yards and 81.8 percent of their turnover production.

Of the 16 returnees, running back Vintavious Cooper, wide receiver Justin Hardy, linebacker Derrell Johnson and offensive lineman Will Simmons all garnered preseason first-team CUSA accolades. Cooper appeared in all 13 games last season and became the 12th player in ECU history to rush for 1,000-plus yards in a single season.

Hardy, from Vanceboro, ranked among the national leaders in receptions per game (6.77), total receiving yards (1,105) and reception yards per game (85.0) a year ago. He became the fourth receiver in school history to surpass the 1,000-yard plateau in a single season, and concluded the year ranked among the top 10 in six CUSA statistical categories.

The quartet of honorees -- Cooper, Hardy, Johnson and Simmons -- also earned preseason all-league accolades by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele's College Football Preview Magazine, while being named to the Biletnikoff Award (top receiver), Butkus Award (top linebacker) and Outland Trophy (top interior lineman) Watch Lists.

Hardy and Johnson also garnered College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Watch List honors.

Johnson led all ECU defenders in sacks, tackles for lost yardage, fumble recoveries and quarterback pressures on his way to second-team all-league accolades. He stood among the CUSA's top 10 with seven sacks and netted 11 overall stops behind the line of scrimmage while starting all 13 contests.

Simmons earned all-CUSA honors a year ago after starting all 13 games at right guard and was a vital member of an offensive line that helped produce five 100-yard rushing performances and four 300-yard passing contests. Additionally he was part of three games where ECU produced 550 or more yards of total offense.

The Ahoskie native also helped play a pivotal role for an offensive unit that provided pass protection for Shane Carden's single-game passing record of 439 yards against Marshall and Cooper's 1,049-yard rushing season.