ALBANY — Since opening their preseason camp last month, plenty of UAlbany football players have commented that their season-opening game at North Dakota State could provide an opportunity for a refreshed Great Danes team coming off an injury-shortened spring season with an opportunity to “shock the world.”
There’s just one guy who doesn’t want to hear anything about that: UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso.
“I never really bought into the underdog thing,” Gattuso said earlier this week as the Great Danes prepared for Saturday’s game in Fargo, North Dakota. “I think we’ve kind of built ourselves on [the idea that] if we play our game, we can beat anybody.”
The Bison, however, are more than just “anybody.”
They’ve emerged as an unprecedented dynasty at the NCAA FCS level in the last decade, winning eight of the last 10 national championships — five straight from 2012 through 2016, then a three-peat from 2018 to 2020 — and producing a pair of top-five NFL draft picks at quarterback in Carson Wentz and Trey Lance.
And, as for the version of the Bison that UAlbany will face on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. inside the Fargodome?
Gattuso expects nothing different.
“They’re really good,” he said. “They’re about as good as anybody we’ve ever seen on film. They’re legit.”
“But,” he added, “we think we’re pretty good, too.”
Gattuso stressed multiple times Tuesday that, win or lose, what he wants from Saturday’s game is a gauge of his team’s “battle level” and competitive fire coming on the heels of UAlbany’s 1-3 spring season that saw the team opt out of its final two games due to a preponderance of injuries throughout the roster.
The team is nearly at 100% heading to Fargo, with wide receiver Julian Hicks — a transfer from Akron — as the only major contributor expected to be unavailable.
Hicks will likely miss the season’s first three games while recovering from a hand injury, but the rest of a receiving corps that was among the most injury-riddled spots on the team during the spring will be available, giving quarterback Jeff Undercuffler a deep group of targets to choose from, along with the steady presence of running back Karl Mofor.
Undercuffler said the Great Danes feel “blessed” for the opportunity to test their mettle against the preeminent power program at the FCS level.
“We think we’re also one of the best teams in the country,” Undercuffler said. “We’ve just got to go out there, have fun, fly around and execute our game plan.”
Rising to the occasion against North Dakota State, center Kobe Thomas said, is another opportunity for the Great Danes to show they belong in that company, just as they did when they reached the second round of the FCS playoffs for the first time in 2019.
“This just shows how our program has built over the years,” Thomas said.
“I think a lot of people are doubting us right now,” added linebacker Danny Damico. “That’s even more motivation to go up there and do what we do best, and that’s play our asses off.”
Gattuso said he and the Great Danes “respect the heck out of” the North Dakota State program, but they don’t intend on shying away from the moment.
“We’re going in there to play our game,” he said. “If they can force us out of our game, it’ll be harsh on us. But, if we can execute and do the things we can when we’re playing well, we’ll have a chance to win. I don’t see it as a ‘shock the world’ thing. I really don’t. They’re a great football program, but they’re beatable. We’ve got to play well to beat them.”