East Carolina has something to prove in the Liberty Bowl and might have the perfect opponent in Illinois.

The Pirates (7-4) feel they haven't been given enough respect as a football independent. The biggest slap came a few weeks ago when they weren't invited to join a new conference that includes some of the teams in the Liberty Bowl alliance.Today's Liberty Bowl against Illinois (6-5) gives East Carolina what it wants most - an opportunity.

"Now it's a challenge of playing a good team and a chance to gain some recognition," defensive end Aaron Black said. "A lot of people don't get a chance to see us."