The next time an ACC school agrees to play games against East Carolina, there should be a warning label attached: Schedule at your own risk.
East Carolina has become a bogeyman for ACC schools, winning six straight against league teams -- including one earlier this season against NC State. Up next Saturday is Virginia Tech, a team the Pirates have beaten two straight years.
The question, then, is how has East Carolina put together such a successful string? There is extra motivation to take down a neighboring Power 5 school to be sure -- especially two in their own state of North Carolina.
But the Pirates also have had talented playmakers win their matchups.
"We just look forward to playing these top-tier teams, which Virginia Tech is," said East Carolina senior receiver Zay Jones, who had a school-record 22 receptions last week in a loss to South Carolina. "They've been known for generations to have great football players come there. So we know what this game means and the importance of it, but at the same time, we have to treat it like a normal game."
For those scratching their heads wondering why ACC teams would keep putting East Carolina on the schedule, there is a rather simple explanation. East Carolina is a good Group of 5 program within the geographical area of teams like North Carolina, NC State and Virginia Tech. And they've all had success against East Carolina until recently. All three have lost to the Pirates since 2013.
All three have East Carolina on future schedules, too. Virginia Tech has eight more planned games through the 2023 season, North Carolina has one more and NC State has two more. Whether all are played depends on what the ACC decides with its future scheduling format (nine conference games plus one Power 5 opponent, or eight conference games plus two P5 opponents?)
In any case, the games against East Carolina have made the Pirates well known across the ACC. First-year Pirates coach Scottie Montgomery is aware of their success. As a three-year Duke assistant, he watched East Carolina beat North Carolina and Virginia Tech on tape as he prepped for Coastal Division games.
In those contests, Montgomery saw East Carolina's playmakers take over. But in a win over NC State on Sept. 10, he knew his team would have to play a more physical game -- especially with the stout Wolfpack defensive line coming to town.
"All in all, our guys just played tough," Montgomery told ESPN.com. "They didn't give in. If they lost once, they very rarely lost twice on back-to-back plays. Going into the game, we challenged them physically because we knew it was going to be a tough game."
He will challenge them to do the same Saturday. Though Justin Fuente brings a new twist to the Virginia Tech offense, Montgomery has faced Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster frequently and knows exactly what his team is up against in Blacksburg.
"I don't know if I've been challenged as a coordinator as much as he challenged me," Montgomery said. "He also has a great amount of familiarity with me as well, so it works both ways there. The experience that we have is that we know it's going to be a physical game."
They also know it's another game to get East Carolina even more respect from the ACC.
"I believe that we're a great football team ourselves," Jones said. "ECU is a proud football program and competes against the best and wants to be considered one of the best, so it motivates you that you can play against great competition. We've found ways to win, and that's what it's about."