CAA football shows its strength with 7 ranked teams
By Bob Weiner
For UAlbany Athletics
ALBANY, N.Y. – When three-quarters of your scheduled games are against nationally ranked opponents, coaches and players need optimum preparation, effort and execution every week.
That’s the demanding situation facing the University at Albany football team this season.
The Great Danes (3-4 overall, 1-3 Colonial Athletic Association), who host Rhode Island at 1 p.m. Saturday at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, belong to arguably the toughest Football Championship Subdivision league in the country.
This week, seven CAA programs are ranked among the Top 25 nationally in the STATS FCS poll, and five CAA representatives are ranked in the FCS Coaches Top 25 poll.
UAlbany started the season against three consecutive ranked teams, and the Great Danes will finish against three more ranked opponents (Stony Brook, Delaware and New Hampshire) among their final four regular-season games.
That’s one incredibly challenging schedule.
“There is no doubt that our strength of schedule has been extremely challenging,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said. “We’ve been ranked on and off ourselves in three of the last four years, and we are in a little lull now. But we are competing hard and building. I feel good about our talent. We are heavily loaded for the future.”
Gattuso said that anyone who listens to CAA coaches speak to the media understands just how balanced and strong the league is.
“The press conferences almost become redundant,” Gattuso said. “Everyone says the same thing, that there are no easy games. Ultimately, in my view, there is no league in the country stronger than the CAA from top to bottom.”
CAA teams are thriving every week. Defending national champion James Madison (4-0, 7-0) was chosen as the near-unanimous No. 1 in the national polls for the ninth straight week. In the STATS poll, Elon (4-0, 6-1) is ranked No. 10, and Villanova (2-2, 4-3) is No. 13. Other ranked teams are: New Hampshire (3-1, 5-2) at No. 17, Richmond (2-2, 4-3) at No. 19, Stony Brook (4-1, 5-2) at No. 22 and Delaware (3-1, 5-2) at No. 23.
No other league in the country has as many as Top 25 teams this week as the CAA.
“Every week in CAA competition, we have a very physical game,” Gattuso said. “We came out of the Villanova game banged up. I always quote Rob Ambrose from Towson, who said, ‘It’s not how you play when you’re healthy; it’s how you play when you’re injured.’ It’s always next man up in this league. Depth is so important. I think this league is particularly tough this year, now that Delaware is coming back to prominence.”
CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio is thrilled with his conference’s national rankings.
“There is no question that this league is strong from top to bottom,” D’Antonio said. “There are no easy games on any weekend. I sure don’t envy any coach who must prepare for a CAA opponent week in and week out.”
D’Antonio said he is not surprised by the respect national pollsters give his conference.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the last couple of years. I was expecting this,” he said. “We’ve had multiple teams in the playoffs, and going into the season, I didn’t think it would be anything different. It might be unrealistic to get seven teams in the playoffs this year, because the teams are all beating each other up. But as it comes down the stretch, we should be in position to have four or five teams that are playoff worthy. That’s a really good position to be in.”
D’Antonio, who was in attendance for UAlbany’s 12-10 setback against Maine at Casey Stadium last weekend, said he is impressed by what Gattuso has done with the program.
“I give Greg an awful lot of credit,” D’Antonio said. “He and his staff have done a great job. They are a huge contender in our league, and they play a tough brand of football. They are also extremely well-coached. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done. I love the facility. It has a good atmosphere and lots of good energy there. I think that’s a positive all-around for the Albany fan base. They are going in the right direction.”
Gattuso was asked if he would rather play in a conference with a slightly less demanding schedule from week to week.
“The truth for me is that I love it,” Gattuso said. “No matter how difficult it is, or how much stress there is every week, I love the competitiveness. I came here for that.”
Gattuso said he wanted to thank the UAlbany fans for continuing their support.
“The people here want to win,” he said. “As they get used to the kinds of teams we are bringing in here to play, they will understand how difficult it is. Sometimes, a .500 ball team, which is what we are right now, is pretty good. We are working at it, and the people know what we’re up against every week.”