Nick Saban and the top-ranked Crimson Tide are anxious to kickoff the 2013 season this weekend against Virginia Tech.
Alabama’s march toward a third consecutive national title begins with this weekend’s season-opener against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta.
Considering that the Tide returns nearly every statistical leader from last season’s club, Nick Saban’s club is loaded.
How will the Tide’s matchup against the Hokies unfold, and what will the statistics look like when the season opener concludes?
Rushing Stat Predictions
T.J. Yeldon – 15 carries, 101 yards, TD
Jalston Fowler – 6 carries, 32 yards
Derrick Henry – 12 carries, 80 yards, 2 TD
Altee Tenpenny – 5 carries, 35 yards
Dee Hart – 2 carries, 8 yards
AJ McCarron – 5 carries, -18 yards
While rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon didn’t lead the Tide in rushing last season, he did run for 1,108 yards while averaging more than six yards per carry as a freshman.
Yeldon ascends to the feature back role with the departure of Eddie Lacy, but he will hardly be alone. Veterans Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, plus touted freshmen Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny are all capable backs that may see action against the Hokies.
Despite three new starters on the offensive line, Yeldon is an All-American caliber back who is primed for a big season.
Virginia Tech, who finished No. 30 nationally in rush defense last season, has a veteran front four led by tackles Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy.
While the Hokies are capable of providing a stiff test, the Tide’s ground game should enjoy a solid start to the 2013-14 season.
Passing Stat Predictions
AJ McCarron – 17/25, 245 yards, 2 TD
Alabama enters the 2013-14 season with all the necessary ingredients to field its most potent passing attack since Saban has been in charge.
Senior quarterback AJ McCarron will be throwing to a deep and experienced receiver unit that returns its top four pass-catchers from last season.
While the Tide have striven to maintain balance on offense, McCarron’s presence is a big reason why they will open things up a little more than in years past.
Receiving Stat Predictions
Amari Cooper – 5 catches, 97 yards, TD
Kevin Norwood – 3 catches, 41 yards, TD
Chris Black – 3 catches, 32 yards
DeAndrew White – 2 catches, 25 yards
Kenny Bell – 1 catch, 15 yards
Christion Jones – 1 catch, 14 yards
O.J. Howard – 1 catch, 13 yards
T.J. Yeldon – 1 catch, 8 yards
Sophomore wideout Amari Cooper could be the most explosive playmaker in the country. Veterans Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and DeAndrew White, who are each healthy after nursing injuries in the offseason, will flank him.
Newcomers such as Chris Black, Robert Foster and Raheem Falkins give a boost to the depth of a group that was depleted by injuries last season. Tight end Brian Vogler and H-back O.J. Howard provide McCarron with bigger targets to target in the middle of the field and in the red zone.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s pass defense is solid under defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The Hokies finished No. 24 nationally in pass defense last season yielding just under 200 yards per game through the air.
However, the loss of star defensive back Antone Exum means that the Hokies will likely start touted true freshman and former 5-star recruit Kendall Fuller at corner.
On paper, this secondary could be one of the best the Tide will face all season. However, expect McCarron and company to rise to the occasion and have a solid day in the Georgia Dome.
Total Yards Surrendered Prediction: 201 (117 passing yards, 84 rushing yards)
Alabama returns eight starters off a defense that led the nation in total defense, yielding only 250 yards per game.
All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley and preseason All-SEC safety Ha'Sean "HaHa" Clinton-Dix headline a group that should remain one of the country’s most dominant units.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech enters its first season under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who served in the same post at Auburn last season.
While quarterback Logan Thomas has the ability to be a dynamic talent, he’s been the definition of inconsistent during his career in Blacksburg. Additionally, the Hokies cast of skill talent is extremely young, with very little experience returning at receiver and in the backfield.
Considering all of the changes the Hokies offense has endured, opening up against the top-ranked Tide is a significant challenge for its retooled attack.
Sacks Prediction: 4
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com notes, Virginia Tech will be starting a true freshman at left tackle in Jonathan McLaughlin. That tidbit should leave the Tide’s defensive line salivating.
Veteran linebackers Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson were more active in opponent’s backfields toward the end of last season, and both players should continue that trend this season.
Newcomers such as defensive ends Dalvin Tomlinson and Jonathan Allen are lighter, more athletic players who could excel in packages designed to bring heat on the quarterback.
While Thomas is a threat to make plays with his legs, the Hokies inexperienced cast of skill players means he will have to hold onto the ball longer than he would like to, which means trouble against a squad like Alabama.
Forced Turnover Prediction: 4 (3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery)
The Hokies struggles on offense a year ago was largely due to their inability onto the ball. Virginia Tech turned it over 26 times, including 16 interceptions from Thomas.
By contrast, the Tide defense forced 29 turnovers last season, which helped their club finish 14th nationally in turnover margin.
Considering the gaps in talent and experience between the Hokies offense and the Tide defense, Kirby Smart’s troops have a great chance to feast on an offense that’s still searching for its identity.