2018 UAlbany Football Preview

by Ryan McCarthy, BBM Staff Writer

After their best finish in the Colonial Athletic Conference in 2017, the Albany Great Danes start 2018 nationally ranked and are poised to make “The Jump.” They started last year 3-1, including their first win ever against a team with a top-10 ranking (Villanova). The Great Danes would then lose their next six games, three by less than a touchdown. But they finished on a high note, as they upset New Hampshire in the final game of their season.

The Great Danes are looking to build on that momentum in 2018. Let’s take a closer look at this year’s Albany team.

Offense: The Great Danes’ offense had their share of struggles in 2017, failing to score in three of their eleven games. They do have some weapons, though: RB Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks returns after missing almost the entire 2017 campaign he sustained in the first game of the season. In 2016, Ibitokun-Hanks rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 TD's. Also, in the backfield will RB Karl Mofor who returns after a successful freshman campaign, leading the team with 602 yards and six touchdowns. The two will combine for one of the best backfields in CAA. Also returning is wide receiver Donovan McDonald, who finished second on the team in receptions and was team leader in all-purpose yards in 2017. He’ll be joined by several underclassmen in the receiving corps which includes freshman slot receiver Dev Holmes, formerly of Troy High School. The offensive line featured 11 underclassmen in 2017. They are a season wiser and ready to help the Albany offense improve. How effective they are will determine how successful the offense will be.

Can Vincent Testaverde lead the Great Danes to a CAA title? (photo credit: Jon Monaghan) 
Throughout Spring and preseason practice, one question lingered: who would the offensive line be protecting on opening day? Senior QB Vincent Testaverde, who transferred from Miami (Fl.), was named the starting quarterback on August 23. His backup is junior Will Brunson, who looks to bounce back after adjusting to the full-time starting role in 2017. One other position battle to watch is at tight end, where the Great Danes have a pair of sophomores (Murad Hussain and LJ Wesneski) vying for the starting role.

Defense: The strength of the Great Danes in 2017 was their defense. Head coach Greg Gattuso has been crafting one of the conference’s best defenses since taking over the program in 2014. Last season, the Great Danes finished tied for first in FCS with 16 fumble recoveries, three of those recoveries going for touchdowns. One of the strengths of their defense will be their line, which returns all four starters from 2017. They will be lead by defensive end Brian Dolce, who was second on the team in sacks in 2017. The other strength will be their secondary, which returns three upperclassmen. Senior free safety Josh Wynn was one of three players on defense that had an interception last season and he was second on the team in total tackles. Also returning is fellow senior cornerback Kareem Brown, who was tied for second on the team in passes defended and quarterback hurries. Brown also contributed with an interception last season.

An area of concern for Albany is at linebacker: their depth chart features three underclassmen (including two redshirt freshmen), so how they step up will be crucial to their success. Senior Neven Sussman will be playing his first full season at linebacker after switching over from quarterback last season. Eli Mencer returns after a solid sophomore campaign where he led the team with three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and eight tackles for loss.

Special Teams: Senior Ethan Stark will return to undertake kicking duties in 2018.  Stark made 11 out of 17 field goals and led the team in overall scoring with 51 points. He will also take over the punting role full-time. The return team features the versatile McDonald, who, in addition to leading the receiving yards, also led the team in all-purpose yards in 2017.

Schedule: Albany begins 2018 on the road for the first two weeks of the season, facing FBS Power 5 team Pitt on September 1. They then start their FCS schedule at Rhode Island on September 8. Their home opener is September 15 against Morgan State of the MEAC and they will be at home the next week against former NEC foe St. Francis (PA). After a bye week, the remainder of the Great Danes’ schedule will be in the conference. They travel to Virginia on October 6 to face William and Mary, then have consecutive home games on October 13 (Richmond) and October 20 (Towson). They’ll travel to Maine to face the Black Bears on October 27, then host Delaware on November 3. On November 10, they travel to New Hampshire for their final road game and their season finale will be back home on November 17 to face Stony Brook for the Golden Apple in the Empire Clash.

Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks returns to the UAlbany backfield after missing almost the entire 2017 campaign (photo credit: Jon Monaghan) 
Outlook: Coach Gattuso calls this season’s schedule the toughest in the program’s history. But if the underclassmen can contribute on both sides of the ball and the team gets settled at quarterback, the Great Danes have the potential to have a much better season in 2018.

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