Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide start the redemption march in a matchup that had the look of a heavyweight bout when booked two years ago.
West Virginia is the guilty party for spoiling what should have been a season-opening classic at a neutral site in Georgia, having lost 14 games since agreeing to the matchup. Saban's squad has some recent history to overcome as well thanks to two losses to end last season, one being a lopsided result in the Sugar Bowl.
While surely not as great a contest as what could have been, this one still comes equipped with off-field drama, quarterback questions and serious implications on the rest of the season, not to mention the direction of each program.
Without further ado, let's take a look at all of the critical info.
When: Saturday, August 30, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Television: ABC, ESP2
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 55.5
- Spread: Alabama (-25)
Team Injury Reports
|Ishmael Banks||RB||08/27/2014||will be eligible to return on 9/20 against Oklahoma||Suspended||three-game suspension|
|Jared Barber||LB||08/03/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|Jacky Marcellus||WR||08/03/2014||will miss the entire season||Out||knee|
|Leon Brown||OL||08/25/2014||is probable for Saturday's game against West Virginia||Probable||foot|
|Kenyan Drake||RB||07/19/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|Brandon Ivory||DT||08/02/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
|Eddie Jackson||CB||08/11/2014||is out indefinitely||Out||knee|
|A'Shawn Robinson||DE||08/24/2014||is questionable for Saturday's game against West Virginia||Questionable||knee|
|Tim Williams||LB||08/02/2014||is suspended indefinitely||Suspended||disciplinary|
Injury reports via USA Today.
This one has layers to it but only thanks to Clint Trickett's big mouth.
Trickett, now a senior, let slip a slight detail in the days leading up to the contest that might incite the wrath of Saban's defense in a big way, as captured by Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
As if Trickett's job was not difficult enough before the game, the impact of that quote makes the matchup more interesting, to say the least.
That's not to suggest Trickett cannot handle the Alabama defense, but he will have to show a strong semblance of improvement from last season, his first with a large chunk of playing time. He threw for 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns and interceptions while completing just 52.8 percent of his passes.
Luckily for him, though, he won't be the only signal-caller under the spotlight Saturday.
Blake Sims and Jacob Coker still have no clue as to who the starter is as Saban continues to clutch the cards close to his chest, as Jim Dunaway of WIAT 42 Birmingham details:
Alabama QBs listed both on 1-Line but Nick Saban says he hasn't decided if both Blake Sims and Jacob Coker will play vs. West Virginia— Jim Dunaway (@jimdunaway) August 25, 2014
Sims, now a fifth-year senior, has the edge in the experience department, although he has attempted just 39 career passes. Coker was the subject of much hype after his arrival via transfer from Florida State, where the quarterback position remains on lockdown.
Either option is a good choice given the wealth of talent that will surround the signal-callers. T.J. Yeldon is back in the fold in the backfield and is on the hunt for his third consecutive season with a minimum of 1,100 rushing yards and 12 scores. A bevy of targets through the air make the Crimson Tide one of the nation's deepest units.
Still, the game Saban continues to play is a risky one, as such a decision can certainly fragment a locker room in a hurry if not handled properly.
The West Virginia Mystery
In comparison to their opposition Saturday, the Mountaineers are basically an unknown.
So, here are two facts to know before things get underway in what may be a closer game than some anticipate: West Virginia runs a rather strange defense, and the offense is surely capable of being quite potent.
First, the defense. West Virginia employs a 3-3-5 stack look, which is as strange as it sounds. The scheme is clearly a bit narrow-minded in that it is meant to get extra defensive backs on the field to counter spread attacks.
Alabama wideout Amari Cooper notes that the look is giving his unit some pause, as captured by Michael Casagrande of AL.com: "They play a pretty weird defense to me. I've never went up against that type of defense. They play an odd defense with three-down linemen and two guys have to come for a receiver to be hot. So it's something we are going to work all this week, and we will get used to it."
Which team wins?
It's a strange look that will give some inexperienced quarterbacks issues, but yes, it does seem ripe to be exploited by backs such as Yeldon.
Offensively, the Mountaineers remain one of the more explosive attacks in the country thanks to the scheme, so do not place too much stock into the loss of a back such as Charles Sims to the NFL.
Saban himself heaped praise on the unit, per Myfoxal.com:
We think this is going to be a very challenging game for us. We certainly have a lot of respect for what [West Virginia] has been able to do. They scored a lot of points last year in games that they weren't successful in winning, but they certainly were successful in being able to move the ball and score points on people.
The odds of the Mountaineers scoring on a few big plays is great, even with a somewhat new face under center and his offense being tasked with overcoming a unit that might just be the nation's best.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to talent on the field.
Saturday Down South's Christopher Walsh summed up the talent disparity best:
Alabama has as many 5-star players in reserve as West Virginia has 4-star players on roster. The breakdown: http://t.co/UHO7dZcNs6— Christopher Walsh (@CrimsonWalsh) August 26, 2014
So yes, both teams are breaking in new quarterbacks under center. Both have obvious strengths and weaknesses, but on the same field, the Crimson Tide simply trump this matchup with relative ease.
Alabama can ride the ground game to a victory Saturday, especially against a scheme that seems conducive to giving up a lot of yardage in that manner. Sometimes a plan goes awry, and that appears to be the case with this one that many thought would be a great game just a few seasons ago.
Prediction: Alabama 30, West Virginia 14
Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.