East Carolina football coach Scottie Montgomery knew he was going to face an uphill battle in his effort to improve from two straight 3-9 seasons and do enough to keep his job in 2018.
With the announcement of next season’s schedule Tuesday, he learned just how high of a mountain he and his Pirates will have to climb.
The good news is that ECU will play seven home games for the second year in a row. The bad news — and there’s plenty of it — is that the Pirates will face seven bowl teams from a year ago, two teams that went undefeated, four teams that were ranked in the final AP poll and all four defending American Athletic Association Players of the Year.
The gauntlet begins on Sept. 1 with a home date against defending HBCU national champion NC A&T, followed by back-to-back tests against ACC foes — at home against North Carolina on Sept. 8 and on the road against Virginia Tech the following Saturday.
The Pirates will begin conference play on the road for the third time in five AAC seasons at South Florida on Sept. 22.
Among the highlights of an attractive, but difficult home schedule are appearances by 2017 AAC Offensive Player of the Year McKenzie Milton of Central Florida for homecoming on Oct. 20, Defensive Player of the Year Ed Oliver of Houston on Oct. 13 and the duo or Special Teams Player of the Year Tony Pollard and Rookie of the Year T.J. Carter of Memphis on Nov. 17.
The other home dates are against nonconference foe Old Dominion on Sept. 29, and UConn on Nov. 17.
“Our 2018 schedule offers both a tremendous challenge and opportunity,” Montgomery said in a release announcing the dates. “We again look forward to being in a position to play at least seven games at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and I know everyone is excited about continuing our home-and-home series’ with the Tar Heels and Hokies.
“Our American Conference schedule is set up in a fair manner and, although it presents familiarity with the same divisional format as a year ago, it remains as demanding as ever.”
Sept. 1 – NORTH CAROLINA A&T (PC)
Sept. 8 – NORTH CAROLINA
Sept. 15 – at Virginia Tech
Sept. 22 – *at USF
Sept. 29 – OLD DOMINION (FW)
Oct. 6 – *at Temple
Oct. 13 – *HOUSTON (HOF/FS)
Oct. 20 – *UCF (HC)
Oct. 27 – bye
Nov. 3 – *MEMPHIS (MIL)
Nov. 10 – *at Tulane
Nov. 17 – *CONNECTICUT (SD)
Nov. 23 (Fri.) – *at Cincinnati
Dec. 1 – AAC Championship Game (highest-seed campus site) – ABC/ESPN
Home games in ALL CAPS; *American Athletics Conference game; PC-Pirate Club Day, FW-Family Weekend, HOF-Hall of Fame/Letterwinners Day, FS-Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day, HC-Homecoming, MIL-Military Appreciation Day, SD-Senior Day. Dates are subject to change pending finalization of television scheduling