ALBANY — In the last two seasons, the University at Albany football program has lost one more game than twice as many games as it has won. In Colonial Athletic Association play during that span, the Great Danes have gone 3-13.
The rest of the league took a look at all that, and picked UAlbany to finish last in the CAA preseason poll.
So what’s success this season for the Great Danes?
Simply finishing a spot higher than last place in the CAA?
UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso, preparing for his sixth season leading the Great Danes, said at Tuesday’s media day that expectations should be higher for his program.
“We feel like we have a team that can make the playoffs, for sure,” Gattuso said at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. “And if you can make the playoffs in this conference, then you’re in the hunt. We’re excited about it.”
A season ago, excitement was rare around the Great Danes. After winning back-to-back games to even its record at 2-2, UAlbany lost its next six games before winning its season finale.
More than stopping a losing streak, that season-ending win against Stony Brook helped fuel the Great Danes throughout their offseason.
“I definitely love the energy we’ve been bringing all spring and summer,” said redshirt junior linebacker Levi Metheny, whose team opens its preseason camp Wednesday. “Ending the season on a high note helped push us.”
“Everyone’s been working their tails off every day to get better,” redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler said.
UAlbany, though, needs to show great improvement to get itself back in the CAA mix like it was in 2016 when it finished 7-4 overall. While this year’s roster lacks proven stars, Gattuso said he is confident in the overall depth of his program for 2019.
“It’s not just the starting group or part of the starting group,” Gattuso said. “We feel like we have kids in the second group — and some kids in the third group — that are great football players that are going to be able to help our football team this year.”
“Talk’s cheap,” Gattuso said. “We’ve got to go out and perform.”
In each of Gattuso’s first five seasons as UAlbany head coach, a different quarterback has led the program in passing yards.
This season will push that streak to six, regardless of who wins the starting spot between Undercuffler, redshirt junior Griffin Dahn and redshirt freshman Braeden Zenelovic.
Undercuffler finished last season as UAlbany’s starter. Gattuso offered ample praise Tuesday for how Undercuffler performed during his true freshman season, in which he passed for 526 yards and four touchdowns in four appearances.
“That all said,” Gattuso said, “we feel good about competition because he has to win this job still.”
Undercuffler gets that, and it’s what he intends to do in the weeks before UAlbany opens its 2019 season at Central Michigan on Aug. 29.
“It’s kind of bittersweet because you want to be the guy that shows your coaches, the university and your teammates besides you that you’re the guy that can lead them to a championship,” Undercuffler said of entering preseason camp having to compete for the starting spot. “But, right now, I just want to win the job. I want to show them that I am the guy.”
THIS & THAT
While UAlbany was picked last in the CAA preseason poll, James Madison was picked to win the conference. . . . UAlbany sophomore wide receiver Dev Holmes, listed at 5-foot-8 and 153 pounds last season, said Tuesday he has gained 15 pounds since entering college. As a freshman, Holmes led UAlbany in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. … A UAlbany athletics department spokesman confirmed that Schenectady native Liam Maloney is no longer with the program. Maloney, a Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School graduate, had signed with the Great Danes last year.