When kickoff finally arrives, it’ll have been 454 days since the last UAlbany football game.
“That’s way too long,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler said Wednesday during a teleconference with reporters.
Two days shy of 15 months since their 2019 season ended with a second-round FCS playoff loss at Montana State, UAlbany is finally slated to return to the field Friday when the Great Danes take on New Hampshire.
After the novel coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of the fall season, Friday night’s trip to Durham, New Hampshire, begins for UAlbany a six-week spring sprint through the northern half of the CAA, with hopes of reaching a reduced, 16-team national tournament when the field is announced April 18.
With only five at-large bids available — the CAA’s automatic bid will be determined by best overall conference record, even with teams from the north and south sides of the league not facing each other during the regular season — that leaves precious little room for error.
“There’s always urgency to get a win, whether it’s the first game or the last game,” senior running back Karl Mofor said. “Being in the conference, that’s always way more urgent. It’s just a different task in front of us that we have to accomplish, regardless if we’re playing UNH in the sixth week or the first week.”
“It’s not an easy road to go 6-0 in this conference,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said. “One thing you’ve seen in this conference, over the years, is it’s real hard to go unscathed in the CAA. In the North Division, pretty much everybody’s ranked or near-ranked.”
UAlbany opens the season ranked No. 13 in the STATS FCS Top 25, with opening opponent New Hampshire right behind at No. 14.
The Great Danes are also scheduled to play current No. 5 in the regular-season finale on April 10.
“Every game is vital to our progression toward doing what we want to do, which is get to the playoffs,” redshirt senior linebacker Levi Metheny said. “Each game, especially this year because there’s not as many games, is crucial.
“Then again, every game’s crucial.”
For UAlbany, the opener comes after a month-long preseason that has Gattuso confident in his team’s talent level, but still with several question marks about how the squad will perform when it takes the field.
There are a few returning elements that Gattuso has absolute confidence in — Undercuffler rewrote the program’s single-season passing record book in 2019, Mofor has rushed for nearly 2,500 yards in his three previous seasons, the front seven on defense is chock full of returning talent — but some position groups remain mysteries.
The offensive line has been heavily retooled, while the wide receiver corps was hit hard by the loss of stars Juwan Green and Jerah Reeves to graduation.
All over the field, UAlbany will be looking to newcomers — both younger players and a handful of transfers — to make an immediate impact.
“You really want to see how they do, how they perform,” Gattuso said. “You want to see how they do when they get knocked down, or they make a mistake, or they jump offsides, and how they rebound.”
Metheny, the team’s lone preseason All-American, likes the vibes around the team.
“I’m confident in all the guys,” he said. “We have a lot of experience. We have some younger guys, but they’ve really shown that they can step up.”
After 15 months without a game — and almost exactly a year since the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic began to be felt on the college sports scene — Friday night is expected to be something of a catharsis for UAlbany.
“After all the hard work and sacrifice we had to get to this point,” Mofor said, “it’s a relieving feeling that we can go out there on Friday.”
UAlbany will be heading into the season without junior wide receiver Dev Holmes, who is no longer with the team due to disciplinary reasons.
Gattuso confirmed that the former Troy High standout Holmes was no longer with the team. WNYT Sports Director Rodger Wyland, the play-by-play announcer for UAlbany football and basketball, first reported Holmes’ departure.
Holmes had a breakout freshman season for UAlbany in 2018, catching 50 passes for 734 yards and seven touchdowns, but had just six catches for 36 yards through three games in 2019. He was then suspended following the team’s third game and left the program after its fourth game, but returned in January 2020.