When Southern Miss and East Carolina square away on this upcoming Saturday, it will be the 38th time the two teams have faced each other, with the Eagles holding a 27-10 advantage.
Interestingly, the Eagles are only 11-7 against the Pirates in Hattiesburg.
For both programs, it is a huge game. Every season these two teams seem to be battling it out for the conference title, and many times this game has decided who will take it home.
Coach Ruffin McNeil is the head man of the East Carolina program, and he is happy to return home to a place where he played in his college days. McNeil was a defensive back for the Pirates under then head Coach Pat Dye.
It is very special for him to be able to lead this program after many wonderful memories there as a player.
“Having played at ECU and coming back to a place that I love so much is just an honor," he said in an exclusive interview with GoldenEaglePride.com at C-USA media days.
"I love this place and have so many great memories and wonderful moments. It is just such a good feeling to see where this program is and where we are trying to continue to bring it."
Coach McNeil commented also about his relationship with Southern Miss Coach Ellis Johnson.
"Ellis is the same way, he’s been around it and is back to Hattiesburg," he said.
"I’ve known him for 27 years since I started coaching, so it is not a first meeting for us. There is a lot of commrodiary. We are competitors but we also pull for each other in every other game. It is very unique, it really is. Our fans respect Southern Miss yet we in the same token want to beat them as much as anyone else we play. That is what makes it a true rivalry.”
East Carolina and Southern Miss have often been compared to one another in similar styles of play, always a very tough non-conference schedule, and a mentality of not being afraid to play anyone at any place.
This, Coach McNeil said, is part of what makes this rivalry so unique.
“Same deal as you have in East Carolina you have at Southern Miss," he said. "There are challenges and hurdles you have to face. It has always been that way too.
"When I played at East Carolina we played Southern Miss and I faced Reggie Collier and all those guys and some great running backs. It has always been two programs that really have mirrored each other.
"Recruiting wise you have other Universities right there in the state, and I am always amazed at how Southern Miss always was able to fight and get those kids to come play for them. It is obvious they still do.”
Coach also pointed out that there is one thing you can expect when these teams match-up, tough, physical play.
"It is a game where you know you have to have your big boy pads on because there will be some serious contact out there," he said.
"Both programs have respect for each other because of what we stand for and because of what we’ve both been able to do. The pride and passion among both universities are evident.
"It makes it a great rivalry. I’ll tell you, we get up for the Southern Miss game like none other because we know it is going to be tough and physical. We circle that game every year, and I know they circle it too.”
This year both teams will be looking to atone for early losses on the road. The Eagles fell to Nebraska over a week ago, and ECU will be coming off a tough loss at the hands of South Carolina.
When we talked, Coach McNeil knew the great challenge his schedule presented this season.
“We have to be road warriors," he said. "We play Appalachian to start the year, then we have to go face South Carolina.
"Right after that we have to go to Hattiesburg which in my opinion is as tough as any place to play in the country. After that we go to Chapel Hill and play an ex Southern Miss guy in Larry Fedora and that offense.
“We have to have a road warrior mentality. It will be us against the world. We’ll have a small crowd with us but we’ll dive into it head on because that is all we can do. We’ll take it one game at a time and get ready to play hard nosed football.”
Coach McNeil said his team will have to make some adjustments to new personnel this season, and if they can, they have a chance to be pretty good this year.
“We are trying to make sure we play faster," he said. "We have to be an offense that takes care of the football. Against Southern Miss last year we turned the ball over to much and you can’t do that against a really good championship football team like the Eagles are.”
“We have to establish ourself up front. As far as the QB situation, the guy that makes the best decisions and moves the football will take over. I thought we had to develop depth at Offensive line and running back, and I think we have addressed that. I am looking forward to this game and getting it going.”
While both teams may pull for each other to do well outside of conference play, this week, they will both be fighting to get that crucial first win in conference.
Kick-off is set for 2:30 in Hattiesburg, MS. Stay tuned, it is going to be a good one.