In years past, an August matchup between Alabama and Virginia Tech—two of the better programs in recent memory—would have been a must-watch event.
But while Alabama is the top-ranked team in the nation and the defending national champions, Virginia Tech went just 7-6 last year and limped past Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl, 13-10 (in overtime).
Still, with a player like Logan Thomas and a proud tradition to uphold—plus a game in Blacksburg—the Hokies won't go down without a fight. Let's take a closer look at this clash between traditional powerhouses.
When: Saturday, August 31 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Spread: Alabama (-21.5), according to Bovada
Alabama Injuries (via USA Today)
Kevin Norwood, WR, probable (toe)
Amari Cooper, WR, probable (foot)
Brandon Ivory, DL, probable (knee)
Geno Smith, DB, out, (suspension)
Trey DePriest, LB, out indefinitely (suspension)
Virginia Tech Injuries (via USA Today)
RB J.C. Coleman, questionable (ankle)
CB Antone Exum, doubtful (knee)
LB Ronny Vandyke, out (shoulder)
Joel Caleb, WR, out (suspension)
OL Mark Shuman, out (knee)
Tony Gregory, RB, out for season (knee)
What They're Saying
These days, there is a certain inevitability to Alabama. Yes, it might lose a game at some point. Yes, it might look vulnerable here or there.
But ultimately, it'll still win the national championship.
So it’s fairly simple to put together a template to find the team most likely to beat Alabama. It’ll be a top-10 team on the November schedule with an off week before meeting the Crimson Tide. It’ll be a team with an experienced quarterback in the mold of Tim Tebow, Stephen Garcia or Cam Newton and a head coach who’s either won a national title or is on his way to one, not unlike Urban Meyer or Steve Spurrier.
Alabama has four games in November this season, and three of them—at Mississippi State, at home against Chattanooga and at Auburn—don’t count for the purpose of this discussion.
That leaves one team in the eye of the perfect storm, and it happens to be the only team that’s beaten Alabama more than once since 2008.
Naturally, it’s LSU.
His whole article is worth a read as he fleshes out each piece of criteria. Sorry, Hokies fans, but your team probably isn't going to give Alabama its one loss this season.
Alabama Player to Watch: C.J. Mosley
The senior linebacker finished with 107 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions a season ago, and he'll once again be looked to lead a talented 'Bama defense. He'll be a key component against Virginia Tech's running game and, more importantly, may be asked to spy mobile quarterback Logan Thomas.
As we've seen in the past, mobile quarterbacks like Manziel or Tebow can give Alabama trouble. Thomas wasn't great in 2012, but Mosley will likely be tasked with ensuring he doesn't get off to a big start in 2013.
Virginia Tech Player to Watch: Logan Thomas
Thomas went into last year expected to be one of the best players in college football. Things didn't exactly work out that way.
Thomas passed for 2,976 yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, failing to come anywhere close to the lofty expectations for his season.
There is no question that the talent is there, as Thomas is a big, mobile (he rushed for 524 yards and nine touchdowns) quarterback who could very well enter the Heisman race if he plays up to his potential. The key for Virginia Tech's season is the play of Thomas, and an epic performance from the senior is really Virginia Tech's only hope of upsetting Alabama.
Key Matchup: Alabama's Offensive Line vs. Virginia Tech's Front Seven
Virginia Tech has questions on offense, but defensively should be one of the better units in the country. The team may not have some of the blue-chip recruits Alabama possesses in the front seven, but this is a ferocious group that will make Alabama work to run the ball with success.
Alabama's offensive line is still very strong, but even for a program as deep as the Crimson Tide, losing three starters to the NFL draft—two of whom were first-round picks—is not easy to deal with.
Against a Virginia Tech front seven that can stifle the run game and put pressure on AJ McCarron, we'll see how the newly constructed Alabama offensive line holds up.
Which team wins?
There are two things working in Virginia Tech's favor in this contest: It is playing at home, and Alabama may be a bit rusty early in the season.
Unfortunately, there is one major thing working in Alabama's favor: It has way more talent than Virginia Tech.
Expect the Hokies to put up a fight, but the Crimson Tide to put them away in the second half. Alabama wins, 27-10.