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Pirates react to preseason poll

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East Carolina football coach Mike Houston, left, talks with receiver Deondre Farrier during American Athletic Conference media days on Tuesday at Gurney's Newport Resort and Marina.

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The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

NEWPORT, R.I. — Mike Houston has been in this position before, bracing to prove doubters wrong.

It began with his first head coaching job in 2001 at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, when his team was picked in the preseason eighth out of nine teams but thrived during the season to take second place. Houston's teams at The Citadel in 2014 and '15 also overachieved at times compared to outside expectations.

The theme of Houston's first season at ECU will take him back to those years, which was confirmed Tuesday when the American Athletic Conference preseason media poll had the Pirates fifth in the AAC East Division ahead of only lowly Connecticut. It comes after the Pirates indeed were fifth in the East in 2018, with a 1-7 league record as part of their third straight 3-9 overall mark that led to coach Scottie Montgomery's firing to be replaced by Houston in December.

“The preseason polls are based on last year or transitions or whatever, but we are just concerned about what we are doing this year,” said Houston, who has an 80-25 career record from his stints at James Madison, The Citadel and Lenoir-Rhyne. "What we worry about is the postseason poll and the final standings. ... I’ll talk to our kids about this preseason poll Aug. 1 (when players report for preseason camp), but really that is the only time we’ll talk about it."

Senior Deondre Farrier's initial reaction to the Pirates' position in the poll was "no comment." ECU's lone league victory a season ago was 55-21 in Greenville against UConn, which finished 1-11 overall and 0-8 in the AAC.

The ECU receiver later expanded on his thoughts about trying to erase memories of frustrating 3-9 records.

"It's not even just the seniors, but everybody in that locker room is sure that they do not want to go 3-9 again," Farrier said.

UCF is the favorite again this year to win the league championship. It received 19 first-place votes and 169 total points, followed in the East by Cincinnati (157 points), USF (107), Temple (101), ECU (66) and UConn (30).

In the AAC West, it was Memphis (165) edging Houston (162), Tulane (108), SMU (87), Navy (70) and Tulsa (38).

The Knights winning the league title a year ago marked the first time in AAC history that the preseason favorite actually won the conference championship outright.

"Our goal is, in time, to get our program where we are picked at the top year in and year out," Houston said. "We want to compete for conference championships, so that means we have to qualify for the championship game. If those aren't your goals, then why are you playing? Our goal is to get this program to that point in the very near future."

Memphis, Cincinnati and Houston are widely viewed as the most likely threats to potentially prevent UCF from winning a third straight conference championship. Temple won the AAC in 2016, a year when Houston was the preseason favorite.

"Us being picked to win the West Division does nothing for you when you kick off the games, but you do want to see growth in your program and you want your program to be respected and talked about in a positive way," Memphis fourth-year coach Mike Norvell said. "It's going to be a heck of a year. UCF, obviously, has been the standard here the last couple of years and we are all pushing to try to put our best foot forward.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.


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