The big-game atmosphere surrounding Friday afternoon’s clash between No. 4 Cincinnati and host East Carolina is as much about the underdog Pirates as it is the undefeated Bearcats.

The Pirates are 7-4 and on a four-game win streak entering the game. But the national headline grabber is Cincy, which is armed with an 11-0 record and the No. 4 ranking in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

By all accounts, if they win, they’re in. If they lose, ECU has pulled off arguably the biggest upset in its history.

Here are three questions to ponder during the game:

Ahlers’ big sendoff?

It is Senior Day in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, and although East Carolina starting quarterback Holton Ahlers is still a junior, he is coming to the end of his fourth active season with the Pirates and is on the cusp of a big decision.

Ahlers has options, including returning to ECU next year. But the Cincinnati game might be his last at home. The passer has been instrumental in the Pirates’ turnaround season and enters the game with 2,898 passing yards and 23 total touchdowns.

Can ECU keep it close?


The Pirates enter the game a two-touchdown underdog and last season struggled mightily to stay in the game at Cincinnati, which finished as a 55-17 Bearcats rout.

The Pirates have played up to their competition all season, including taking Houston, now unbeaten at 8-0 in league play, into overtime before surrendering. They also played UCF down to the game’s final minute in a four-point loss.

But 11-0 Cincinnati is a different animal, averaging more than 40 points per game, and quarterback Desmond Ridder has enjoyed his time playing against the Pirates, including throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 75 more and another score in last season’s win.

Seal it with a kick?

The Pirates might have the hottest kicker in the country at the moment after Owen Daffer drilled the game-winner against Navy as time expired last week.

If ECU manages to keep Cincinnati in check long enough and keep the game close enough, Daffer could be a weapon once again.

The freshman kicker has six field goals in his last two games and has been the American Athletic Conference special teams player of the week for two weeks running.