Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
Atlanta, GA 8 PM
Line: Alabama -6.5
The Atlanta Sports Council has put together another outstanding game to open the college football season, pitting top 10 teams Alabama and Virginia Tech. Last year, Alabama came into this game as the underdog to favored Clemson but blew the doors off the Tigers. This year the Tide is the hunted, coming off a 12-2 season a year ago.
Virginia Tech is fighting for respect in this game—for themselves and for the ACC as a conference. The Hokies broke through for the ACC in the Orange Bowl last year and are the best hope to bring a BCS title to the league this year according to Las Vegas.
Alabama Offense vs. Virginia Tech Defense
The Crimson Tide were not known for their offensive prowess last year, but they did not really need it most of the time.
Gone is QB John Parker Wilson, Alabama's all-time leader in total offense, and stepping into his place is Greg McElroy. Wilson was never beloved by Alabama fans, and some feel McElroy may be an upgrade here. I will withhold that judgment until I see it; Wilson was the starter over McElroy for a reason.
Mark Ingram has been cleared to play (as has Julio Jones). The Tide have several tailbacks that can move the ball, but the real question will be the rebuilt offensive line. LT Andre Smith paved the way for many Alabama yards last year, but he is gone to the NFL now. The Tide gained 239 yards rushing on almost five yards per carry in the opener against Clemson last year.
Having Jones on the outside is a huge difference for Alabama. He is by far their best receiver and will be McElroy's go-to guy. His presence likely disallows Virginia Tech from bringing an extra man in the box to defend the run.
The Hokies have one of the best defensive coordinators in college football in Bud Foster. His defense allowed just 279 total yards per game last season and only 104 on the ground. DE Jason Worilds is an ACC Player of the Year candidate (eight sacks, 10.5 TFL last year) and could be a nightmare coming off the edge.
Virginia Tech has to replace their top two linebackers and their top cornerback. Head coach Frank Beamer and his staff have recruited well enough to have quality talent behind them, but there is likely to be a drop-off early on.
Foster, like most good DCs, is going to try to make Alabama play "left handed." I am guessing that means he will likely try to stop the run first and make the new starter McElroy beat them with his arm.
Virginia Tech Offense vs. Alabama Defense
The Hokies suffered a big blow to their running game when 1,000-yard rusher Darren Evans went down for the season. But the staff has raved about redshirt freshman Ryan Williams. The drop-off is more likely to occur when Williams needs a breather.
Tyrod Taylor is firmly entrenched as the starting QB, a new role for the junior, who is used to alternating snaps during his career. Taylor had just two touchdowns to seven interceptions last year. He is at his best when he is making plays with his feet, whether on rollout passes or designed runs.
The offensive line should be solid again with three starters returning and eight of the two deep from a year ago. This line paved the way for 174 yards per game on the ground but did allow 42 sacks a year ago.
The loss of DE Brandon Deaderick is a blow to a Tide pass rush that was average at best last year—26 sacks. Monster DT Terrence Cody has been limited in practice with the flu but should be ready to go. This defense prides itself on stopping the run, allowing just 74 yards per game a year ago. Even with Deaderick out, the Tide still have five starters back from the front seven.
The secondary lost team leader Rashad Johnson but has the rest of the two deep back. The Hokies do not present many double team threats, so this unit should not be under a lot of pressure. It will be interesting to see if Nick Saban uses an extra DB to spy on Taylor though.
This Alabama defense introduced themselves to the nation last year against Clemson, allowing the Tigers zero net yards rushing and just 188 yards total.
Beamer is no Tommy Bowden. Last year right before the game, Bowden said to a sideline reporter the most pressure was on the offensive line because he didn't want the pressure on them. Don't expect the Hokies to be prepared as poorly as Clemson was because Beamer almost always has his team ready to play.
Saban has remarked many times this offseason how much he wants to get rid of the memory of those last two losses a year ago. There have been some distractions this offseason though, including two big ones this week with the Deaderick incident and Jones and Ingram's eligibility. Saban's biggest job this week may be getting this team focused again.
This is truly a matchup of college football elite in terms of coaches. Both will have their teams ready to play for 60 minutes.
The line on this game opened up at Alabama -5.5 but has moved a point to -6.5. I don't know if some of that had to do with the speculation surrounding the eligibility status of Jones and Ingram. Alabama is more of a national team than Virginia Tech, and their backers could be moving the line up.
Both teams are well coached, and both have tremendous talent and coaching on the defensive side of the ball. I give Alabama an edge at the skill positions on offense, but I have some questions about their offensive line.
This game is going to come down to who wins the line of scrimmage. I don't expect anything like how Alabama dominated Clemson last year.
To pull off the upset, I think Virginia Tech needs a defensive or special teams score to make up for their lack of offensive talent (when compared to Alabama). This one should be a great game to open the season that goes right down to the wire, but I think the Crimson Tide prevail.
Alabama 21, Virginia Tech 17
Virginia Tech Covers -6.5