The lull of the college football offseason is in full swing over the next month. I’ll try to fill that void on the blog by taking a look at all of Virginia Tech’s 2013 opponents and (hopefully) getting some insight from a beat writer who covers each team.
The first team up is a doozie: two-time defending national champion Alabama, which is seeking its fourth BCS title in five years.
Who: Alabama Crimson Tide
When: Saturday, Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta
Series history: Alabama leads 11-1 (Last meeting: 2009 in Atlanta, 34-24 Alabama win)
The coach: Nick Saban, seventh season at Alabama, 63-13 at Alabama; 18 seasons overall, 154-55-1
Last year’s record: 13-1 (7-1 SEC, 1st in West division), defeated Notre Dame 42-14 in BCS title game in Miami
How they got there: The Tide continued to roll, adding another national title to the trophy case that’s getting so packed that Alabama has trouble counting them all and doesn’t mind when one get broken. The preseason No. 1 steamrolled the competition early in the season, getting off to a 9-0 start by winning eight of those games by 19 points or more and upending No. 5 LSU in Baton Rouge on a late touchdown by T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass. Only Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel‘s Heisman-worthy performance derailed what could have been a perfect year for the Tide, who lost 29-24 at home to the Aggies the following week. Undeterred, Bama rolled off three more wins to get to the national championship game, including a white-knuckler against Georgia in the SEC title game that might have been the game of the year. Once in Miami, the Tide routed overmatched Notre Dame, securing the third national title in Tuscaloosa for Saban, who’s starting to draw comparisons to legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant.
By the numbers
- Rushing offense: 227.50 ypg (16 nationally, 2nd SEC)
- Passing offense: 218.00 ypg (75th, 8th)
- Total offense: 445.50 ypg (31st, 4th)
- Scoring offense: 38.71 ppg (12th, 2nd)
- Rushing defense: 76.36 ypg (1st, 1st)
- Passing defense: 173.64 ypg (7th, 1st)
- Total defense: 250.00 ypg (1st, 1st)
- Scoring defense: 10.93 ppg (1st, 1st)
- Turnover margin: 1.00 (13th, 4th)
Offensive starters returning/lost: 6/5
Defensive starters returning/lost: 7/4
Biggest loss: C Barrett Jones. Yes, two other offensive linemen were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft (Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker), well ahead of this fourth-rounder, but he was the heart-and-soul of that line. He started full seasons at right guard, left tackle and, as a senior, center, twice finishing as a consensus All-American. With the Tide’s line undergoing an overhaul, losing that leader in the middle could be tough.
Team linchpin: QB A.J. McCarron. For a quarterback who has won two national championships and was on the roster for a third as a freshman, McCarron doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for being an integral play-maker, despite his numbers. He led the nation in quarterback efficiency last year, completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,933 yards, with 30 touchdowns to only three interceptions, taking the step from game manager to consistent offensive threat. Still, he’s never been higher than a second-team All-SEC pick and a third-team All-American and hasn’t gotten much Heisman love. Back for his senior season and with a receiving group that’s primed for a big year, McCarron might finally jump into that Heisman spotlight, even if Saban’s offense isn’t the wide-open type that catches the eyes of voters. He’s certainly shown he can handle the spotlight.
Watch out for: RB T.J. Yeldon. The only thing preventing him from being a bigger star as a true freshman was the presence of bruising running back Eddie Lacy. Nevertheless, Yeldon ran for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first year, numbers that are sure to improve with Lacy now in the NFL. Yeldon could be the next big thing at running back in college football if he’s not already considered that.
The 2013 schedule
- Aug. 31: vs. Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
- Sept. 14: at Texas A&M
- Sept. 21: vs. Colorado State
- Sept. 28: vs. Ole Miss
- Oct. 5: vs. Georgia State
- Oct. 12: at Kentucky
- Oct. 19: vs. Arkansas
- Oct. 26: vs. Tennessee
- Nov. 9: vs. LSU
- Nov. 16: at Mississippi State
- Nov. 23: vs. Chattanooga
- Nov. 30: at Auburn
The buzz: Saban is developing an assembly line in Tuscaloosa, recruiting at a level nobody else in the country can on a yearly basis, turning those players into national championship material in college and sending them off to the pros at a dizzying pace (nine were taken in April’s draft alone). It’s everything Alabama fans thought their program could be and hearkens back to the hey day of Crimson Tide football under Bryant. If the toughest teams in the SEC are having a hard time keeping up with Alabama, certainly the rest of the country will struggle too. It’s not often that dynasties get formed in the modern era of college football, but Alabama certainly has one that should continue until Saban decides to hang them up or go elsewhere (or, like the last NCAA dynasty to crumble — USC — the NCAA catches them doing something wrong).
Why they should be excited: What’s not to be excited about? They return a quarterback who threw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, a 1,000-yard running back who’s only a sophomore, a receiver (Amari Cooper) who broke most of Julio Jones’ freshman records, a potential top-five pick at left tackle (Cyrus Kouandjio) and a defense that, despite some losses, should be among the nation’s best, as is usually the case with a team coached by Saban. Did we miss anything? It helps that after Virginia Tech and a trip to College Station for a shot at revenge against Manziel and Texas A&M on Sept. 14, the schedule sets up fairly good for a shot at the three-peat. The Tide get LSU at home and avoid Florida, Georgia and South Carolina from the East. Given Alabama’s reputation, even a loss won’t disqualify it from BCS title contention.
Why they should worry: The offensive line was such a bruising unit that could wear on opponents as games went on last season that losing three starters, two of which were NFL first-rounders, has to sting a little bit. The Tide, as everyone knows, reloads with four- and five-star caliber players at every position, it seems, but there’s still a process of coming together and playing as a unit, especially on the o-line. That won’t happen overnight, although Alabama has proven success of making it happen eventually. The d-line had plenty of turnover too, losing tackle Jesse Williams and ends Damion Square and Quenton Dial, but it sounds like the Tide is pleased with what is has coming through the system. Teams that have beaten the Tide have gotten big games out of their quarterbacks. Alabama faces some good ones this year (Logan Thomas, Manziel, Zach Mettenberger) who have the potential to do the trick.
The more you know: Alabama claims 15 national championships, 10 of which are deemed consensus national titles by the NCAA record book. All of those have been since 1961.