UAlbany Great Danes – (2011 Poll Finish – 4th)
2010 Record: 6-5, 4-4
2010 NEC Finish: t-4th
There have been two constants through Albany's tenure as a NEC member – Bob Ford and winning.
Albany had not suffered a losing conference record in any of its first 11 seasons as a NEC member. Just when it looked as if that streak was in serious jeopardy last year, redshirt freshmen Dillon Romain (Vernon, NJ/Don Bosco Prep) and Buddy Leathley (Manlius, NY, Fayetteville-Manlius), as well as a number of other youngsters, stepped up. Sitting at 1-4 in league play heading into November, the Great Danes closed the 2010 campaign on a three-game win streak to pull their conference record up to 4-4 and post a winning overall record for the fifth straight season.
As for Ford, the late-season surge ran his career win total to 247, the highest amongst all active NCAA FCS head coaches.
"If you can't run the ball and can't stop the run, you will not be playing in December," the active NCAA FCS wins leader said during the NEC's annual preseason teleconference.
"We have an opportunity to make a run at the title. This will be a better football team," said Ford.
With the Danes having won at least a share of four conference crowns, one has to believe Ford knows a team with title potential when he sees one. Still, the "Architect of Albany Football" knows potential doesn't always translate into championship rings.
"If you can't run the ball and can't stop the run, you will not be playing in December," said Ford.
Running the ball with success has been a staple of Albany's program during its time in the NEC, but the 2010 Great Danes wound up ranking sixth amongst league leaders in rushing offense following a slow season start.
Come November, however, Albany's ground game found another gear.
Romain, who had the task of replacing the Albany's all-time leading rusher David McCarty, gained more than 100 all-purpose yards during each of his three November appearances on his way to securing the NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Leathley, who was never hesitant to tuck it and run, also contributed the ground attack. In his first career start under center, a 30-27 overtime loss to Central Connecticut (Oct. 22, 2010), Leathley rushed 17 times for 112 yards and passed for 101 more. It was the first of five consecutive starts for the red-shirt freshman signal caller, who remained atop the depth chart for the remainder of the season.
Having made 50 receptions, junior wide receiver Ryan Kirchner (Rumson, NJ/RFH) was another underclassman who took his game to the next level last season and he is a 2011 preseason all-NEC selection as a result. Junior Andrew Smith (Schenectady, NY/Guilderland), Albany's version of "Slash," is listed as a tailback, but can also play under center or out on the flank. In 2010, Smith rushed for a team-high 724 yards (4.5 ypc) and seven scores.
Albany was ranked second amongst league leaders in rush defense during the 2010 campaign, but ranked next-to-last in defending the pass.
Preseason all-NEC defensive end Eddie Delaney (Holtsville, NY/Sachem East), a senior, has good ability to rush the quarterback, which should only help the Danes in their quest to improve upon their pass defense. Another accomplished veteran will patrol the Great Danes' secondary. Senior safety Jake Ciccarello (Altamonte Springs, FL/Winter Springs) made 51 stops and two interceptions as a junior.
Inside linebackers Jon Morgan (Copiague, NY/Copiague) and Dave Plungas (Concord Twp., OH/Mentor Lake Catholic), both juniors, are also two of seven returning starters on Albany's defense.
The Danes are usually strong on special teams and the 2011 season should be no exception. In addition to the punt returning ability of Kirchner and the kickoff return potential of Romain, Albany has a pair of big boots on its special teams unit. After averaging 40.1 yards per attempt as a rookie, punter Paul Layton (Burnt Hills, NY/Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake) enters his sophomore season as a preseason all-NEC selection. Senior placekicker Herb Glass (Miller Place, NY/Miller Place) has converted the second-most field goals (26) in program history.