Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech look to stun the defending BCS champions from Alabama this weekend in Atlanta, where the Tide have enjoyed much success. Photo: USA Today Sports
No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Line: Alabama -20.5
Nobody is giving Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech Hokies much of a chance this weekend in the season opener. It's easy to see why. The Hokies have the unenviable task of taking on the two-time defending BCS Champion Alabama Crimson Tide, already named the top team in the country and the team to be beat by the AP and the coaches and just about everybody else except for a voter here and there. Not only must Virginia Tech find the few cracks in the Crimson Tide and expose them, they must take advantage before Nick Saban and his crew find ways to correct them. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer may be college football's active leader in the wins department, but Saban is the best in the business for a reason. Will the Hokies need a flawless effort Saturday in Atlanta? Absolutely, but it may still not be enough against this well-oiled machine.
For Alabama to Win: Other than simply show up? Alabama needs to avoid any lulls in the game that may allow Virginia Tech to feel confident. The Crimson Tide have the decisive edge in overall talent on both sides of the football and it may take a flawless performance from the Hokies to pull the upset, but Alabama did have to scrape by some games last season so it is not exactly completely out of the question. That said, if Alabama pounds the running game they will wear down the Hokies defense and tire out an youthful and inferior unit as the game progresses.
For Virginia Tech to Win: Other than Alabama's busses breaking down? It's no secret that the Hokies are up against a dominant force in the season opener, and the Hokies have played this role before. For the Hokies to have any shot at taking down what should be a well-prepared and superior Alabama team they must control the football by avoiding turnovers and orchestrating numerous long possessions that result in points. If the Hokies can penetrate the red zone, it will be critical to leave it with touchdowns instead of field goals (or nothing at all). It seems like basic logic, but against Alabama it is practically essential.
Key Player, Alabama: Sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon has high expectations this season. After rushing for 1,108 yards a year ago as a freshman and splitting rushing duties with Eddie Lacy (another 1,000-yard rusher), Yeldon takes over the lead in the ground game. Yeldon ended his 2012 campaign with a touchdown score din five straight games, including against Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game. The Hokies were third in the ACC in rush defense in 2012.
Key Player, Virginia Tech: On an offense lacking in experience, quarterback Logan Thomas takes on a bit of extra importance for the Hokies. The redshirt senior has plenty of size to offer and continues to move up the school record books. By the end of the season Thomas could be the new Virginia Tech record holder for touchdown passes, passing yards, total offense and more but against Alabama he will have to improve. Thomas was the ACC's ninth rated quarterback in 2012 and nearly as likely to throw an interception as he was a touchdown (18 TDs, 16 INTs). Alabama will make Virginia Tech pay for turnovers so Thomas must avoid forcing anything under the pressure he will be expected to face. If he can get rid of the football with accuracy to sustain drives, he may be able to help keep Virginia Tech in this one.
Key Stat: 11
Alabama has won 11 straight season openers, including two against Virginia Tech in Atlanta. The last time Alabama lost a season opener was in 2001 when No. 25 Alabama lost to No. 17 UCLA in Tuscaloosa, 20-10. The last time the Tide lost a season opener to an unranked team? The previous year, when No. 3 Alabama was upset by unranked UCLA in Pasadena, 35-24. Alabama is 20-3 all-time against teams from the ACC. Virginia Tech is 17-34 all-time against the SEC.