East Carolina Pirates vs. Florida Gators (-6.5, 56 o/u)
The Birmingham Bowl, one of the last bowl games of the season, features the East Carolina Pirates taking on the Florida Gators at Legion Field in Birmingham (today at 12:00p.m. Eastern).
The Pirates had an 8-4 record this season and lived and died by the arm of quarterback Shane Carden. The 6’2″ pivot followed up his 4,139-yard junior season by throwing for more than 4,300 yards this year. Carden led East Carolina to the third-best passing offense in the nation, averaging 367.3 yards per game.
The Pirates played two top-25 teams this season, dropping a 33-23 decision to then-No. 21 South Carolina, but trumping then-No. 17 Virginia Tech 28-21 the next week..
Today, East Carolina will be facing a Florida team in transition. Out is head coach Will Muschamp (who is now the DC at Auburn); in is former Colorado State boss Jim McElwain. However, for the Birmingham Bowl, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will be calling the shots.
“[Durkin has] been in it and been at some top places and done a great job on defense,” said East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill.
The Gators had a subpar season by their standards, finishing the year at 6-5. Four of their five losses came against teams that finished the year in the top-25, though, and they did manage to down then-No. 11 Georgia (38-20) in early November.
Florida’s strength is on the defensive side of the ball, where the team surrenders just 21.2 points per game (20th in the nation). Durkin and company know that keeping Carden in check will be one of its hardest tests of the year, though.
“Our guys know the challenge we have ahead of us,” Durkin said. “Everyone keeps mentioning all [the Pirates’] stats and numbers, which are very impressive and eye opening. The most important thing to me, when you turn on the film, is that they have a group of guys who play the game the right way.”
The Gators, who played a much tougher schedule in the SEC than the Pirates faced in the American Conference, are 6.5-point favorites for today’s game. These two programs have met just once before, back in 1983 when Florida won 24-17.