The CMU football season kicks off on Thursday night, against the Albany Great Danes of the heavily-competitive FCS-level Colonial Athletic Association.
It's the first time the two schools are meeting, and of course, we don't really know what to expect. CMU contests with past FCS opponents have been a little close for comfort in recent years (Maine in 2018, Rhode Island in 2017, Chattanooga in 2014 and New Hampshire in 2013), so it's probably a good thing to figure out what exactly CMU is getting themselves into.
That's why we got a hold of Brian Minutolo, sports editor at the Albany Student Press, to give us the low down on the Great Danes.
What to expect on offense:
Let me start at the most important position, quarterback. UAlbany is set to start redshirt freshman Jeff Undercuffler. The massive QB stands at 6’5” and weighs 231 pounds. He started three games for UAlbany last season after taking over for Vincent Testaverde, son of former NFL QB Vinny Testaverde. In those three starts, Undercuffler thre for 526 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman.
As for the skill positions, the Great Danes returns their starting running back and top-four wide receivers from 2018. Karl Mofor is a junior who has lead the UAlbany backfield since his freshman year. He’s compiled 1,151 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs. He is a key component of the strong UAlbany skill positions and one to watch for.
The foursome of Dev Holmes, Juwan Green, Jerah Reeves and Donovan McDonald combined for 13 TDs in 2018 and have shown great chemistry with Undercuffler in camp. The group is lead by sophomore Albany-area native Holmes who is a CAA Preseason All-Conference Honorable Mention after catching 50 passes for 739 yards and five TDs in 2018. He was a three-time CAA Rookie of the Week and caught 8 passes for 238 yards in only his third collegiate game last season. He is the X-Factor.
Undecluffler told Pete Iorizzo of the Sports Information Departments, “I think our running back and receiving core are the best in the CAA, hands down.”
It looks throughout camp as if the game against Central Michigan will be used to help sort out the tight end competition. There are two leaders of the pack, LJ Wesneski and Murad Hussain, followed closely by two redshirt freshman. Wesneski started 10 games last season, but Hussain played in seven 2017 games before missing all last season due to injury. His ability to come back from a season-long injury will likely help sort the competition.
The offensive line carries a lot of experience heading into 2019. The team returns one full-time starter, center Niko Culnan, and three part-time starters who will carry the full-time roll, Griffin Clancy, Sean Kennedy and Micah Royster. Right tackle is Kobe Thomas’ to lose, though the coaching staff has noted that they are comfortable with the depth beyond if things don’t work accordingly.
What to expect on defense and special teams:
The team is loaded up front with experience between two fifth-year seniors - 6’2”/258 Nick Griffin and 6’0”/270 Nick Dillon. New to the position of defensive end is Eli Mencer, who was named a Preseason All-CAA Honorable Mention and led the team with 4.5 sacks last season. He is transitioning from linebacker and is expected to lead the pass rush up front alongside Anthony Land who recorded 4 sacks in 2018.
Levi Metheny is the anchor of the defense who busted onto the scene in a big way in 2018 at middle linebacker. In 2017, he appeared in all 11 games, only recording 23 tackles and played mostly special teams. In 2018, he recorded 92 tackles, 9.5 for loss. The team expects big production out of the redshirt junior. Danny Damico also carries heavy expectations into 2019 after he posted 81 tackles in 2018. They love the depth at linebacker as well.
After an injury-plagued season for the Great Dane secondary, they are excited to enter the season with two veteran safeties, Tyler Carswell and Josh Wynn. They are accompanied by corners Kareem Gibson and Jarren Williams. From the outside, this seems to be UAlbany’s weakest unit. I will be looking to see how this unit performs the first few weeks before making any rash assumptions, however.
As for special teams....
The team entered camp looking fora new kicker and punter as Ethan Stark, who did both, graduated. Dylan Burns entered camp at No. 1 on the kicker chart, though the team brought in Danny Kay, who was 35-37 in extra points and had a long field goal of 50 and Francesco Ancona who was 53-54 and has a long of 57 yards.
As for punter, there are no immediate answers. I wish I could have got this answer in camp but we unfortunately were unable to attend. This is a work in progress position from what I understand. You’ll probably see who the starter is at the same time I do - Thursday night.
Many thanks to the Albany Student Press and Brian Minutolo for corresponding with us! Brian can be followed on Twitter @brianminutolo, and the ASP Sports section can be followed @sports_ASP.