The 2020 football season is 54 days away from its scheduled start for East Carolina University. While a deadly virus threatens to move the season back to the spring or outright cancel it, no such plans have been formerly introduced, meaning as of right now the season is going to happen as scheduled.

Of course, whether or not that remains the case as August nears remains to be seen but with each passing day, the prospect of having college football back seems to grow ever so slightly.

For Pirate Nation, there is much about the 2020 squad to be excited about. Nearly all of the play-makers on the offensive side of the football are back, including quarterback Holton Ahlers and wide receivers C.J. Johnson and Tyler Snead. The defense, however, is a bit of a different story as the Pirates figure to lean on young and inexperienced talent to fill their defensive line in 2020.

Nevertheless the Pirates should be a team that scores points in bunches, with the only real question being how well they can keep opposing offenses from doing the same.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Pirates’ strength of schedule and Football Power Index rankings for the upcoming season, according to ESPN. First, however, let’s get a refresher on what ECU’s schedule looks like:

Aug. 29 – vs. Marshall

Sept. 12 – @ South Carolina

Sept. 19 – vs. Norfolk State

Sept. 24 – vs. UCF

Oct. 3 – @ Georgia State

Oct. 10 – @ USF

Oct. 17 – vs. Navy

Oct. 30 – @ Tulsa

Nov. 7 – vs. Tulane

Nov. 12 – @ Cincinnati

Nov. 21 – @ Temple

Nov. 28 – vs. SMU

Strength of Schedule Ranking

ECU has a very favorable non-conference schedule with matchups against Norfolk State and Georgia State. Marshall figures to be a good early barometer for this Pirate squad, as does a road tilt with South Carolina after a week off.

As has been the case in recent years, however, the American Athletic Conference competition looks stout once again, as the Pirates must face Cincinnati on a short week and follow that up with a trip to Pennsylvania to visit Temple.

With all that considered, ESPN’s strength of schedule model gives the Pirates the 78th hardest slate in the country. Of AAC teams, that number ranks eighth behind USF (59), Tulsa (65), Tulane (68), Houston (70), Cincinnati (72), Temple (73) and Memphis (74).

SMU is projected to have the “easiest” schedule in the conference and ranks 97th in the nation, while Navy and UCF find themselves at Nos. 79 and 82, respectively.

Football Power Index Ranking

Developed in 2013 to measure the strength of all college football teams, FPI does a lot to predict game outcomes and seasons for the now 130 Division I football programs.

For more information on FPI, click here. Below is an excerpt of the definition of FPI from ESPN’s website:

“FPI is a predictive rating system designed to measure team strength and project performance going forward. The ultimate goal of FPI is not to rank teams 1 through 128; rather, it is to correctly predict games and season outcomes. If Vegas ever published the power rankings it uses to set its lines, they would likely look quite a lot like FPI.”

As far as FPI goes, ESPN does not like Mike Houston’s squad, at least in the preseason. Without any data to go off of for 2020, the current FPI model is taking past performances into account, something that no doubt hindered the Pirates’ ranking.

With that in mind, ECU ranked 99th out of 130 FBS teams in FPI, turning in a negative-6.7 mark. That means the Pirates are projected to be that many points below average for the upcoming season.

That number stands as the worst in the AAC, narrowly behind Temple (negative-6.0, 97th).

UCF owns the best FPI in the conference at 17.3 and ranks 14th nationally, while pulling down a 77.2% chance to win the AAC in 2020. Memphis and Cincinnati own the next best odds of winning the conference at 12% and 7.4%, respectively.

ECU, according to ESPN, has a 0.0% chance to win the conference this year, and is the only team without a numeric value in that category. The Pirates also have the worst odds to win six games and become bowl eligible in AAC at 22.4% and have a projected win-loss record of 4.4-7.6 in 2020.

While some of these numbers may be a little low for those who believe ECU football can make a bowl game in 2020, it is important to remember a lot of these figures are based on 2019 and earlier performances.

In year two of Houston’s tenure in Greenville, North Carolina, it would not be shocking to watch the Pirates outperform these projections and potentially be in the hunt for a bowl appearance.

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