By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
No matter what happens on Friday, when Marshall visits East Carolina at 2 p.m., the Pirates know they will have a 13th game next month.
There could also be a 14th.
At 7-4 overall, ECU is bowl eligible — one of only three such teams in Conference USA as it currently stands. But if things play out in the Pirates’ favor, they could be playing for a conference championship.
If ECU (6-1 C-USA) beats Marshall, and if UAB is able to upset Central Florida on Saturday, then ECU would win the East Division and take on West champion Tulsa for the C-USA title Dec. 1. UCF, which lost at Tulsa last Saturday, would win the East if it beats the Blazers.
Of course, all of that will be moot if the Thundering Herd (5-6, 4-3) can beat the Pirates. For the second year in a row, Marshall is in position to spoil the Pirates’ plans.
The Herd can’t keep ECU out of a bowl game, as they did last year with a 34-27 overtime win that ended the Pirates’ season at 5-7. But a win would make Marshall bowl eligible — as it did last year — while taking ECU out of the running for a league championship.
Third-year ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said his team cannot focus on what has yet to be determined.
“We need to make sure that we cancel out any (outside) noise against Marshall,” McNeill said, “and make sure that all our attention and efforts are on our opponent this week, instead of against our potential bowl opponent or anything else going on throughout the conference. We need to focus on us and not get distracted by anything that doesn’t relate to this week’s opponent.”
Last year’s Marshall win plunged ECU into territory it hadn’t been in for quite some time. The Thundering Herd, meanwhile, celebrated its first bowl berth under coach Doc Holliday.
Now the Pirates have their shot at revenge, although McNeill doesn’t want his players to look at it that way.
“I wouldn’t say that. We just need to play well this week. That is all the motivation that we will need,” McNeill said. “Sure our team knows how the game ended last year, but I don’t plan on using last year’s outcome as incentive or motivation this week. Our motivation is to just make sure that we are getting better each week, and that is what we have told the team all season long.”
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UTEP coach Mike Price announced Monday that he will retire after Saturday’s season finale against Rice.
Price is the second-winningest coach in UTEP football history with 48 victories, trailing only Mack Saxon (66). Price will be coaching in his 109th game at UTEP against the Owls.
UTEP athletic department officials announced that Saturday will be “Coach Mike Price Appreciation Day,” with the first 20,000 fans receiving commemorative tickets.
Price has posted 177 wins in a 31-year head coaching career. He was 46-44 at Weber State (1981-88), 83-78 at Washington State (1989-2002) and is 48-60 at UTEP (2004-present).
Only Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (256 victories), Texas’ Mack Brown (235), Nevada’s Chris Ault (233), South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (206) and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly (198) have more wins among active FBS coaches.
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