The Albany Great Danes are primed to make the postseason for just the second time in school history.
Despite playing in one of the toughest conferences in FCS, head coach Greg Gattuso’s squad showed great promise last season, finishing at .500 in the Colonial Athletic Association and securing a win against a ranked New Hampshire team on the road. The Great Danes were one of the last teams left out of the playoffs last fall and are looking to crash the party in 2017.
2016 Albany Football Season In Review
Albany started off last season with a bang, knocking off FBS foe Buffalo in its opener. The Great Danes upset the Bulls, 22-16, on their home field, with the victory sparking a 4-0 start and a spot in the FCS Top 25.
Things started to go awry for Albany, however, after the strong beginning to the year. The Great Danes suffered a heartbreaking triple-overtime home loss to then-No. 6 Richmond and followed that up with road losses to Maine and Villanova. Despite the win over New Hampshire, a bad setback to sub-.500 Delaware sealed their fate.
Gattuso stuck with Neven Sussman for too long last season. Sussman was awful under center, completing just 45.8 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns for the second straight year
The signal caller was eventually replaced by Will Brunson, who led the team to its victory over New Hampshire. The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder finished the season with better numbers than Sussman but only started two games.
While quarterback play was a major issue throughout the fall, Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks was the motor of the offense. He ran for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns, tallying six 100-yard games. Ibitokun-Hanks played a huge role in all of the team’s wins, but his best performance was his 298-yard, three-touchdown effort against New Hampshire.
Albany had the fourth-best turnover margin in FCS, finishing at plus-16 on the season. The Great Danes recovered 15 fumbles, more than any other team, thanks to an opportunistic and hard-hitting defense.
2017 Albany Football Season Preview
For the Great Danes to make the postseason, they must get better play out of the quarterback position. Neither Sussman nor Brunson inspired a lot of confidence last year, but the team hopes another offseason of work will mean better numbers. Brunson left spring practice as the No. 1 option, but Gattuso indicated the battle isn’t over yet.
Ibitokun-Hanks suffered a torn ACL at the end of the 2016 campaign and has spent the offseason rehabbing. The coaching staff believes he is making good progress, but returning at 100 percent from a knee injury is never easy for a running back. He took the pressure off of a woeful passing game last fall, so Albany’s chances of making the playoffs in the new season are grim without him.
Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will have the team’s best receiver back in 2017. Brad Harris broke his foot after the win against Buffalo last season, and no one could adequately fill his shoes. His return is great news for a passing attack that finished sixth from last in the FCS.
Albany benefited from being on the right side of turnover luck last season, but things could even out in the new campaign based on the laws of probability. Fumble recoveries are largely random, so the Great Danes may not be so fortunate this year. The defense will need to continue to improve to account for a potential evening out in the turnover game.
2017 Albany Football Schedule
September 2: Albany at Old Dominion
September 9: Albany at Morgan State
September 16: Albany vs. Monmouth
September 23: Albany vs. Villanova
September 30: Albany at Elon
October 7: Albany at Richmond
October 21: Albany vs. Maine
October 28: Albany vs. Rhode Island
November 4: Albany at Stony Brook
November 11: Albany at Delaware
November 18: Albany vs. New Hampshire
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
Fortunately for Albany, it doesn’t have to play the powerhouse of the conference. Dodging James Madison is good news for a school looking to get to the playoffs, but the Great Danes do have to play the other conference heavyweights.
The game against Maine will give Albany a chance for sweet revenge. There’s a lot to like about taking the Great Danes against the Black Bears in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests that week. Albany will have a bye the week prior, while Maine will have played games against James Madison, UCF, Villanova and Rhode Island before the showdown with the Great Danes. Not to mention the trip will be the fifth road game of the season for the Black Bears.