Just another game? Hardly.
The University at Albany will play its first league game as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, and the Great Danes will also show off their new $19 million multi-sport complex tonight at 7, when they host the University of Rhode Island at Bob Ford Field.
Co-featured on this big week for area college football will be the season opener for Union College, which visits Utica College, also under the lights at 7.
UAlbany head coach Bob Ford, for whom the new field is named, is coaching in his 44th and final season for the Great Danes. He ranks first among active NCAA Division I FCS coaches with 265 career victories, and he’s also fourth on the all-time FCS chart. In 41 years at UAlbany, Ford has a 256-160 record.
“It’s hard not to be excited about this game,” said Ford, who celebrated his 76th birthday Wednesday. “This will be my last scenario of this type. It’s almost as if you went to somebody’s house for Christmas, and you opened up a gift that you just couldn’t believe.”
Ford said one of the problems for his staff all week was trying to avoid all the distractions of the home opener.
“Heck, there aren’t that many distractions for our players,” said Ford with a chuckle. “Outside of class, girls and chemistry, we’ve got all kinds of distractions. Our kids have been anticipating all the hoopla of this opener for quite some time. There have been all sorts of tours and pep rallies around the stadium, and tons of VIPs here visiting. We really have to try to keep our perspective on the game. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Great Danes are 1-1 after defeating Colgate, 37-34, last Saturday night at Andy Kerr Stadium in Hamilton. Junior running back Omar Osbourne was the offensive hero with a career-best 252 yards on 35 carries for the third-best rushing performance in program history. He also scored twice.
“If you said we would run like we did against Colgate and throw like we did in some of our games last year, I’d say that I would take that,” said Ford. “The bad thing is that we’re not playing defense like we usually do. We are giving up the most rushing yards and the most passing yards in our conference. We’ve got to get better on that side of the ball.”
Rhode Island (0-2), the only team picked below UAlbany in the CAA preseason coaches’ poll, has lost to Fordham (51-26) and CAA foe Stony Brook (24-0). Senior quarterback Bob Bentsen has thrown for 3,070 passing yards in his varsity career.
“They’ve lost to two decent teams,” said Ford of URI. “I don’t think they are a phenomenal team, but they are a full-scholarship program, and we can’t take them for granted. They are a very solid team.”
DUTCHMEN ON THE ROAD
Union College will attempt to avoid its non-conference troubles over the last two seasons when the Dutchmen take on the Pioneers at Gaetano Stadium.
Union, 6-4 overall and 6-1 in the Liberty League a year ago, has struggled early in its non-league games.
“We really do want to get off to fast start this year,” said head coach John Audino. “Over the last two seasons, we’ve got off to disastrous non-league starts. Those games have been against excellent opponents, but how much better could our season have been if we had done better in our non-league games? If we had a better non-conference record, we would increase our chances of getting into the playoffs.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on the first couple of games, but we really need to play well early.”
Union is loaded with talent in the skill positions, led by junior quarterback Connor Eck, junior wideout Kyle Reynolds and senior tailback T.J. Franzese. Eck completed 134 of 224 passes for 1,914 yards and 17 touchdowns on his first season with the varsity. He was intercepted only three times. Reynolds caught 40 passes for 618 yards and 11 scores, while Franzese ran for 819 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We do have a lot back in our skill positions, but we have to build our offensive line, our tight end spot and many of our defensive positions,” said Audino. “We’ve only got a few starters back on defense.”
The biggest loss on defense was linebacker Noah Joseph, who was a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy as the NCAA Division III Player of the Year.
Utica, which beat the Dutchmen, 45-17, a year ago on Frank Bailey Field, is coming off a 42-22 victory over Lewis & Clark. Quarterback Connor Butkiewicz completed 26 of 35 passes for 242 yards and two scores, while Jake Larson ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns for the Pioneers.
RPI MEETS ALFRED
RPI takes on the Saxons at 1 p.m. at Merrill Field.
The Engineers are coming off a 20-7 win over Norwich in head coach Ralph Isernia’s debut at RPI. Senior quarterback Jessie Maynard came off the bench to throw for one touchdown and run for another to lead the Engineers last week at East Campus Stadium.
Alfred is playing its season opener.