The Sports Network
By John Hooper, FCS Correspondent
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 6th, 1:35 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Event: Gridiron Classic. Annual: 3rd. Site: University Field (5,000) -- Albany, New York. Surface: Natural Grass. Television: YES Network. Announcers: Bob Lorenz, Ross Tucker. Home Record: Jacksonville 5-0; Albany 4-0. Away Record: Jacksonville 4-3; Albany 4-3. Series Record: First meeting. Conferences: Jacksonville - Pioneer League; Albany - Northeast. Coaches: Jacksonville - Kerwin Bell (12-11); Albany (Bob Ford, 224-143 at Albany, 233-165-1 Overall). Gridion History: December 2, 2006 (San Diego 27, Monmouth 7); December 1, 2007 (Dayton 42, Albany 21).
GAME NOTES: The third annual Gridiron Classic pits Pioneer Football League champion Jacksonville against Northeast Conference title winner Albany. Jacksonville has provided one of the best turnaround stories in college football this season, emerging from a 3-8 finish last season to complete the campaign 9-3 and garner a title game berth with its school-record seventh consecutive win over Dayton a couple of weeks ago.
Albany rides on the shoulders of star running back David McCarty (1,581 yards, third best in FCS, nine TDs) to earn its second consecutive berth in the Gridiron Classic. McCarty is the all-time leading rusher at Albany, has scored touchdowns in 19 consecutive games and has 100 or more yards in 16 of his past 17 games. The Great Danes have averaged 190 yards per game on the ground, 22nd in FCS.
Signal-caller Vinny Esposito (1,793 yards, 13 TDs, eight interceptions) has shown the ability to make the big play in the passing game. Esposito's favorite receiver has been Tim Bush (58 receptions, five TDs, 12.2 yards per catch).
The Albany defense has been strongest against the against the run (122 yards per game, 34th in FCS). The Great Danes rank 22nd nationally in total defense (307 yards per game), and have allowed just 19.8 points per game (22nd). The ringleader on defense for Albany has been junior linebacker Justin Brancaccio (83 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss), while free safety Dave Casale (six interceptions, one interception return for a score) anchors the secondary.
The Great Danes challenged themselves with a tough non-conference schedule, losing to UMass, New Hampshire and Delaware in competitive performances, while beating Hofstra in overtime.
Jacksonville's offense has been powered by freshman quarterback Josh McGregor (2,331 yards, 24 TDs, 10 interceptions) and first-team All-PFL running back Ruddell Small (1.318 yards, 13 TDs). Geavon Tribble (33 catches, 19.7 yards per catch, 651 yards, six TDs) is McGregor's most sought option in the passing game, and he completes a balanced attack that averages 238 yards through the air and another 158 yards on the ground.
The Dolphins have scored an average of 33.4 points per game and are piling up yardage at a 396-yard-per-game clip. Jacksonville's schedule included wins over traditional PFL powers Dayton and San Diego and an early-season loss to three-time defending national champion Appalachian State.
The Dolphins rank 21st in FCS in total defense (307 yards per game) and are buoyed junior safety Jason Wood (78 tackles), while defensive end Shaun Lewis (20 tackles for loss, nine sacks) leads a strong pass rush.
Jacksonville has won seven games in a row since starting the year at 2-3, with its defense allowing just 14.4 points per game during that run and holding five of those opponents to nine points or less.
The game features two Eddie Robinson Award candidates as coaches, veteran Bob Ford of Albany and Kerwin Bell of Jacksonville. Ford leads all active FCS coaches with 233 career wins.
It's been a magical season for Jacksonville, Albany's tough early-season slate, home-field advantage and run defense should help the Great Danes get their first-ever Gridiron Classic win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Albany 17, Jacksonville 14.
12/04 16:12:13 ET