ALBANY — In all honesty, Griffin Clancy wasn’t sure.
The UAlbany football program had come so close in 2016 to earning a spot in that year’s FCS postseason field. The Great Danes had gathered to watch that year’s selection show, only to discover they hadn’t made the playoffs. That hurt, and little during the next two years did much to ease that pain. UAlbany finished 4-7 in 2017 and 3-8 in 2018, then saw itself picked to finish last in the year’s CAA preseason poll.
So Clancy, a redshirt senior offensive lineman from Saratoga Springs, admitted he hadn’t always been confident he’d ever watch a selection show that included UAlbany’s name shown in the 24-team postseason bracket during his playing career. After coming so close in 2016 to make the playoffs, UAlbany wasn't even in the hunt the next two years. Entering the 2019 season, there was so much work to do just to get the Great Danes back on the right track.
Then, this year’s regular season happened, a campaign in which UAlbany outdid all outside expectations for itself. Clancy spent time the night before Sunday’s selection show discussing with several of his veteran teammates how the Great Danes were finally on the verge of playing their first postseason game since 2011.
“That’s storybook, man,” Clancy said Sunday at SEFCU Arena, where the Great Danes gathered to watch this year’s selection show. “You can’t make this up.”
UAlbany didn’t need to wait long Sunday to see its name appear in this year’s postseason bracket. Unranked for the entirety of their regular season, UAlbany was granted a home game at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium next Saturday at 1 p.m. against Central Connecticut in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
“All the naysayers out there and all the outsiders, they always doubt us,” said UAlbany redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, whose team broke Sunday into the media poll at No. 25. “The big thing that we did this year was just prove everyone wrong and we’ve just got to keep doing that.”
UAlbany (8-4) seemed to lock up its spot in the postseason with Saturday’s win at Stony Brook. That victory was the third in a row for the Great Danes, while 11-1 Central Connecticut — coached by Ryan McCarthy, who spent 13 years on the UAlbany coaching staff — has won its last eight games. The winner between UAlbany and Central Connecticut will play Montana State in the second round.
The Great Danes were quick to point out Sunday that their focus is on winning playoff games. Simply making the playoffs is not enough for them.
“We’re going to be ready to work,” Clancy said.
But Sunday’s gathering had a celebratory feel to it. That was expected, and deserved, for a program that has struggled to gain its footing since joining the CAA prior to the 2013 season. Gattuso described his team as “thrilled,” but that some of that pain from 2016 still lingered.
“I wish we could share it. We really thought we deserved to be in a couple years ago,” Gattuso said. “But I think that’s what gave this team the dedication. They understood. We didn’t want to play around with not having eight wins.”
UAlbany’s eight wins this season were more than it had combined to earn in the prior two seasons.
“Everybody knows the season we had last year,” senior wide receiver Juwan Green said. “We took it upon ourselves to swing around and not repeat what we did last year.”
Defending national champion North Dakota State is this year’s No. 1 seed for the FCS playoffs, while James Madison of the CAA is No. 2. This year’s national championship will be played Jan. 11, 2020 at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Undercuffler said the Great Danes expect to contend to play in that game.
“You shouldn’t play Division I college football if you don’t think that you can win a national championship,” Undercuffler said.