TIDE, TAKE THREE
Three tidbits regarding top-ranked Alabama entering Saturday's season opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta:
• 1. Alabama is 11-1 all-time against the Hokies, the only loss being a 38-7 hammering inside Vanderbilt Stadium at the inaugural Music City Bowl in 1998.
• 2. Crimson Tide helmets will include a "MAL" sticker with a script "A" to honor former athletic director Mal Moore, who died in March.
• 3. Nick Saban is 10-1 in season openers as an SEC head coach, the lone defeat occurring in his third year at LSU, when the Tigers began 2002 with a 26-8 loss at Virginia Tech.
So it begins.
Alabama's quest to become the first college football program to win three consecutive national championships has a launching point of Saturday afternoon inside the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide last played in January, when they dominated Notre Dame 42-14 for the BCS title, and they've been the favorite ever since for this season's crown.
"It's always an exciting time when it's game week," Saban said Monday. "It's a great opportunity for every team, and specifically our team, to show who you are. Are you going to be the real thing, or are you just going to be somebody who's just kind of out there? Are you going to deliver during the critical part of the game, or are you going to be a blinking light and not really do a job on a consistent basis?"
The Crimson Tide and Hokies are meeting in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic for a second time in five years, with Alabama having won the 2009 matchup 34-24 despite trailing 17-16 after three quarters. That Virginia Tech team was coming off an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and an Orange Bowl win, but last year's Hokies team went just 6-6 before winning the Russell Athletic Bowl against Rutgers in overtime.
Hokies coach Frank Beamer is entering his 27th season at his alma mater and leads the Bowl Subdivision with 258 career wins. Beamer admitted Monday that getting his 259th this week is a long shot, but he added that playing the Tide has its advantages.
"When you get evaluated against the best team in the country in all aspects, you do get a great evaluation of where you are as a football team and what you need to improve on," Beamer said. "Sometimes when you have runaway wins to start the season, you don't really define what you really need to work on. When you play Alabama, you become a better football team.
"It's not often that you get a chance to play the best team in the country. It's certainly a challenge, and we certainly know what kind of game we would have to play to have a chance."
The Hokies are led by 6-foot-6, 254-pound quarterback Logan Thomas, who completed 51.3 percent of his passes and threw 16 interceptions in an inconsistent junior season. He led the team in rushing with 524 yards and nine touchdowns, but the team's second-leading returning rusher, sophomore tailback J.C. Coleman (492 yards and 4.5 per carry), is questionable for Saturday.
Starting at left tackle for Virginia Tech will be true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin.
"He's a tough guy who will give you the very best effort he's got, but scheme wise you do need to try and help him a little bit," Beamer said. "I don't think we've ever had a freshman start at left tackle for us, but it's kind of where we are. We've gotten thin in the offensive line and are in the process of building that back."
Saban released Alabama's season opening depth chart Monday, much to his chagrin.
"It's a chore for me to do that," he said. "I know it's important to you, and we wanted to provide you with something. Don't ask me questions on why you played this guy instead of that guy, because I'm telling you now, the depth chart is for you. It's not for our team.
"You made me do a depth chart when I didn't want to do one, so that's how I'm going to answer."
Alabama's depth chart listed fifth-year senior AJ McCarron and redshirt junior Blake Sims as the top two quarterbacks but went no deeper. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon is the top tailback and redshirt junior Jalston Fowler the top backup, and sharing the No. 3 spot were redshirt sophomore Dee Hart and freshmen Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny.
"They're really good running backs," Yeldon said of the freshmen. "They're still picking up little things like blocking and reading the gaps, but they should be ready for this first game. Whoever they have behind me, I'll be ready."
Alabama has been ranked No. 1 at some point for six straight seasons in the Associated Press poll, one season short of the mark Miami set from 1986 to '92. ... Fifth-year Tide senior linebacker Tana Patrick of North Jackson was listed as the co-No. 2 weakside linebacker behind C.J. Mosley and alongside sophomore Reggie Ragland. Saban said Patrick would be limited in Monday's workout but should be fine the rest of the week.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...