Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Albany leads the series with Buffalo, 7-4, but much of it is almost football ancient history. The last meeting between the teams was back in 1988, when both programs were in Division III.
This is the seventh straight season the Bulls have hosted an FCS opponent, and they are 6-0 thus far in that stretch.
The Bulls are 7-2 in their last nine home openers. This one will be special for new head coach Lance Leipold, who will try to build on the Bulls winning ways at UB Stadium. They have won 11 of the last 13 games in that facility.
Let’s take a look at the two teams:
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► The (football) Great Danes were part of the Northeast Conference for 14 years before joining the Colonial Athletic Association in 2013. After reigning as Northeast Conference co-champions in both 2011 and 2012, Albany struggled through its first season with the CAA, ultimately finishing 1-11in the final year under coach Bob Ford.
► New head coach Greg Gattuso took over Albany and the FCS-level Great Danes jumped out of the gate with four straight wins. Ultimately, they finished 7-5 overall (3-5 CAA).
► Albany returns eight starters on offense and five on the defensive side of the ball.
► Redshirt sophomore D.J. Crook has been named starting quarterback for the opener. The 6-1, 215-pounder transferred to UA last spring from Penn State, where he was a backup QB. He completed 6-of-9 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in PSU’s win over Massachusetts.
“He’s not afraid of contact,” Gattuso said . “He’s kind of built like a linebacker out there, and he’s got a good arm. Right now, he’s just trying to absorb the offense. He can run and move to get out of trouble and has the arm strength to make the throws we need him to make.”
► The Great Danes return four All-CAA players for 2014.
-- WR Josh Gontarek was Offensive Rooking of the Year, hauling in 58 catches for 687 yards.
-- Offensive Lineman Kevin Malloy (R-Jr) started all 12 games at left tackle, protecting quarterback Will Fiacchi, who broke the single-season passing record with 2,636 yards.
-- Linebacker Michael Nicastro (R-Jr) ranked third in the CAA with 120 tackles (54 solo). He had a 40-yard fumble recovery at Villanova and a key interception in UAlbany’s win over Stony Brook. The R-Jr. recorded 13.0 TFL, including 6.5 sacks and two interceptions.
► The Great Danes were picked for 10th in the 12-team CAA this year, according to a preseason poll with voting by head coaches and communications personnel.
► Albany ranked No. 1 in the country (FCS) in turnover margin (15). The Great Danes outscored opponents on points off turnovers, 141-97.
Elliott Croskey (6-2, 200, R-Fr) is slated to get the start at RB, taking over for Omas Osbourne, who logged 254 carries for 1,251 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014.
► Senior wideout Josh Gontarek, who paced UAlbany with 58 catches for 687 yards and eight scores, is back. He leads a very young receiving corps.
► R-Jr. Kyle Sakowski was third in tackles (92)
► The Bulls, who return eight offensive starters (and five on the defensive side) have serious weapons in both the run and pass games.
► Anthone Taylor gained 1,802 yards in 2014. That was the second-best in school history. He became the third back in Buffalo’s FBS era to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season, joining Branden Oliver (now with San Diego Chargers) and James Starkes (now with Green Bay Packers).
► Senior quarterback Joe Licata led the Mid-American Conference in TD passes (school record 29) last year. His 60 TD career tosses is already a school record. Overall, he completed 224-of-345 for 2,647 yards last year. This will be his fourth year as a starter.
► Senior Ron Willoughby paced UB receivers with 50 receptions for 771 yards and nine TDs last season Jacob Martinez and Devin Campbell return as part of a group that should provide enough quality targets for Licata to keep the Bulls moving. However, there are some question marks along the offensive line following graduation.
► Defense was a sore spot for UB in 2014, when it finished ninth (MAC) in scoring (31.5 ppg). Graduation also took its toll up front, and replacing the likes of linebackers Jake Stockman and Lee Skinner may not be easy, either. Safety Adam Redden has also departed, so the Bulls have some work to do along the back line, as well. It will also be interesting to see how well UB adjusts to some defensive system changes.
► Patrick Clarke finished second in program history in field goals. Adam Mitcheson will step into that role.