The two-time defending BCS national champions from Alabama begin their quest toward another title against Virginia Tech on Saturday. Last season, the Crimson Tide crushed Michigan in the opener. They are hoping for a similar result to start this season's journey.
As expected, Alabama opened the season as the No. 1 team in the AP Poll. Virginia Tech didn't make the Top 25 but was in the "others receiving votes" section and should provide a solid first test for the Tide, who can't afford a slow start.
Virginia Tech represents the first of several hurdles on the horizon for Alabama, including potentially the biggest one of all in a few weeks against Texas A&M. So let's check out the key information for the clash with the Hokies, followed by a preview and prediction.
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.
When: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN.com
In some respects, Virginia Tech is a more challenging overall test for Alabama than Michigan was last season. Even though they aren't garnering much hype, the Hokies are a solid squad with plenty of motivation to make a gigantic statement right out of the gate.
On the surface for Alabama, Virginia Tech is a team that the three-peat hopefuls should handle with relative ease. The Hokies are unranked and coming off a lackluster 7-6 campaign. They can't match the talent level of the Tide on a full-squad basis.
With Texas A&M coming up in a couple of weeks, it would be easy for Alabama to lose focus on the task at hand. That wasn't the case against Michigan one year ago, when the Tide knew their first opponent was one of the biggest challenges on the schedule.
That's where leadership comes into play. Head coach Nick Saban and senior quarterback A.J. McCarron must make sure the team is mentally prepared for the opener before starting to look ahead. It's always a task that's easier said than done, of course.
If the entire team is engaged, the Tide will win the game handily. With McCarron leading an efficient offensive attack and linebacker C.J. Mosley headlining what should again be an elite defense, the pieces are once again in place for Alabama.
The biggest question mark heading into the game is Logan Thomas. The Virginia Tech quarterback enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, which was his first full campaign as the starter, but he couldn't match that level of play last year. The Hokies need him to rebound in a major way.
Alabama's defense must put a lot of pressure on him early to ensure he doesn't find a comfort zone. If he starts playing like the passer who accounted for nearly 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns two seasons ago, the task would become a lot tougher for the Tide.
On offense, it should be a game for the Alabama running backs to shine. Virginia Tech gave up more than 140 yards per game on the ground last season. T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Co. should have little trouble finding running lanes behind their stout offensive line.
And, as always, McCarron will be there to pick up the slack. He probably doesn't get enough credit for his contributions due to the team's defensive dominance and strong rushing attack, but he's a vital piece of the puzzle as well.
All told, Alabama is the better team and should win by a couple of touchdowns as long as it doesn't look past the Hokies. Expect the Tide to pull away in the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 14