As the 2024 FCS offseason marches on, HERO Sports will look at five questions for the 2023 quarterfinalists.
Next up is UAlbany.
UAlbany finished 11-4 last year and advanced to the FCS semifinals, losing 59-0 to South Dakota State. Here are five questions the Great Danes face entering 2024.
Was UAlbany’s Semifinal Run Lightning In A Bottle?
A general opinion of many FCS followers is that at least 75% of the semifinals will be teams from the Dakotas and Montana with a fourth team bubbling up. That’s been the case in the last few seasons. And with the power of the subdivision shifted to the Midwest and the route to the FBS for these teams looking blocked for the foreseeable future, it’s probably going to remain the case going forward. South Dakota State, Montana, North Dakota State, and Montana State have a good chance to be in the 2024 preseason top 4. And South Dakota may round out the top 5.
In 2022, it was UIW who rose up to be that fourth team in the semifinals. Last season, it was UAlbany, going from 3-8 in 2022 to 11-4 (11-2 vs. the FCS).
The Great Danes lost 59-0 to eventual national champs SDSU in the semis after winning at highly-ranked Idaho in the quarterfinals. The semifinal loss was an ugly showing. But frankly, SDSU was on a mission that day after a somewhat close game vs. Villanova the week prior. The Great Danes also had brutal travel. Had SDSU played UAlbany in the quarterfinals and Villanova in the semifinals, UAlbany probably would have had the more competitive game while Nova got the blowout treatment.
Now, the question is can UAlbany sustain that success?
Every year in the FCS, a team makes a run that wasn’t expected relative to preseason expectations. Sustaining that success has been difficult for these teams.
UIW didn’t make the playoffs in 2023 after its 2022 semifinal run. Same thing with William & Mary, Holy Cross, and Samford after their 2022 trips to the quarterfinals. ETSU hasn’t made the playoffs since it ascended quickly to the 2021 quarterfinals. Maine hasn’t been back to the postseason since its 2018 semifinal appearance.
Is UAlbany going to be that team that bubbles up one time and then sinks back down into national FCS obscurity?
The Great Danes have a blend of solid returning experience but star players leaving. They’ll have to answer the questions below to keep the momentum going.
Who Steps In At QB?
Reese Poffenbarger transferred to Miami after two dynamic seasons. As a freshman and sophomore from 2022-23, he threw for 5,969 yards, 56 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions.
UAlbany has dealt with replacing a standout QB before when Jeff Undercuffler transferred to Akron in 2022 after his redshirt sophomore season. He was the 2019 Jerry Rice Award runner-up. Poffenbarger was the 2022 Jerry Rice Award runner-up. Poffenbarger transferred to UAlbany from Old Dominion in 2022.
The Great Danes may look to another FBS transfer to take the reins.
Myles Burkett comes in via the portal from Wisconsin. Burkett, who will be a third-year sophomore, was a 3-star high school recruit. He didn’t see much action at Wisconsin.
Burkett will compete for the starting job for an offense that is otherwise experienced.
Nine players return with starting experience. The o-line brings back five players who started games: Ozzie Hutchinson, Scott Houseman, Sean Dugery, Will Marotta, and Nolan Latulippe. Griffin Woodell was a very good and very underrated part of the offense as a freshman, rushing for 892 yards and eight TDs.
UAlbany loses its top two pass-catchers, but it returns some impact players as well.
Who Becomes The Go-To WR?
Brevin Easton (1,086 yards, 13 TDs) and Julian Hicks (820 yards, 11 TDs) have declared for the NFL Draft after being the two go-to targets.
While the Great Danes will have an experienced running game, the offense will still likely keep its aggressive downfield passing attack.
Marqeese Dietz looks primed to step into a larger role after finishing No. 3 on the 2023 team with 45 catches for 515 yards and four TDs. Roy Alexander only played in six games in 2023. He was an impact player in 2021 and 2022, catching a combined 69 passes for 1,031 yards and four TDs. Jackson Parker also looks to step up after being limited to three games last season. He had a combined 52 catches for 717 yards and three scores in 2021 and 2022.
Can The Defense Remain A Top-Tier Unit?
UAlbany had one of the best defenses in the FCS statistically and per PFF’s grades.
Some heavy hitters are gone, including 100-tackle linebackers Dylan Kelly and Ori Jean-Charles, plus All-American defensive ends AJ Simon and Anton Juncaj.
Three players return with starting experience, led by Aamir Hall. Hall will be one of the better cornerbacks in the FCS after totaling 63 tackles, 15 pass breakups, and five interceptions.
Two FCS transfers look to boost the defensive line. Chiebuka Aduaka (Merrimack) had 10 TFLs and five sacks last year. Jack Iuliano (Penn) totaled 40 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, and four sacks in 2023.
Can Transfers Make An Immediate Impact?
UAlbany has struck gold on transfers coming in. Aamir Hall came from Richmond. Marqeese Dietz and Reese Poffenbarger came from ODU. Anton Juncaj from Nassau Community College. AJ Simon from Bloomsburg University. Brevin Easton from Assumption University. Ori Jean-Charles from Maine. Scott Houseman from Lackawanna College. Plus more.
With their starting QB, top two WRs, and three All-Americans on the front seven all departed, new stars will need to emerge. The Great Danes hope to strike again on some transfers to plug holes:
Aaron Steinfeldt (TE), Indiana
Marcus Winfield (DL), Kent State
Myles Bell (DB), Marshall
Julio Macias (K), Purdue
Chris Gales (DB), Toledo
Myles Burkett (QB), Wisconsin
Jamal Cooney (WR) Dartmouth
Chiebuka Aduaka (DL), Merrimack
Jack Iuliano (DL), Penn
Dasean Dixon (DL), East Stroudsburg
Chance Roberts (OL), Tiffin
Ibrahim Sanogo (DL), California University of Pennsylvania
Devin Harper (LB), Lackawanna College