Top-ranked Crimson Tide roll into season-opener against Hokies

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Updated: 8/28/2013 12:10 pm

Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - The two-time defending national champions take aim at their third title in as many seasons, when the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide open up the 2013 campaign in the Georgia Dome, taking on the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic.

Frank Beamer's Hokies had an atypical season in 2012, as the school's string of double-digit win totals came to an end at eight years. Last season, Virginia Tech clawed its way to a mere 7-6 record, a mark that included an unflattering 4-4 record in the ACC.

While Tech found itself in unfamiliar surroundings, Nick Saban and the rest of the Crimson Tide finished off their campaign in the exact way they had the year prior and three of the last four years, with a national championship. With a dominant performance against Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game last season, Alabama claimed its 15th national title.

Still nothing is given and Saban has the utmost respect for Beamer and the Tech program.

"I think we are playing a very good team. A team that has a very good tradition, a lot of 10-win seasons. They have a great coach, the No. 1 winning coach actively in college football. They know how to win, and they're a team that always plays really hard, lots of toughness, lots of effort, really sort of old-fashioned when it comes to principles and values of competitive character that they play with."

This marks the 13th meeting between these two teams all-time. Alabama won the first 10 meetings, with Tech ending the streak in the 1998 Music City Bowl (38-7). These two teams last met in the 2009 version of this game, a 34-24 Alabama victory.

The 2012 version of the Crimson Tide offense was a well-oiled machine, putting up big numbers, while also scoring at an impressive rate.

A lot of the team's offensive success can be attributed to a devastating offensive line and a savvy veteran QB in A.J. McCarron. The senior signal- caller is well on his way to becoming the most decorated quarterback in school history. He led the nation last season with a 173.08 passer efficiency rating, completing 67.2 percent of his throws for 2,933 yards with a school-record 30 touchdowns, with a mere three interceptions.

He will benefit by the return of budding star Amani Cooper, who was named a Freshman All-American, after grabbing 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Kevin Norwood (29 rec, 461 yards, four TDs) and Christon Jones (27 rec, 368 yards, four TDs) round out a talented and experienced receiving corps.

The backfield loses star Eddie Lacy, but like in years past, there is always someone ready to take over. This year that is likely to be T.J. Yeldon, who proved to be a dynamic weapon in his freshman season, rushing for 1,108 yards (6.3 ypc) and 12 touchdowns.

The front line loses standouts Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones, but Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen are expected to follow in their All- American footsteps.

Alabama ranked first in the FBS in scoring defense (10.9 ppg) and total defense (250.0 ypg) in 2012. However, the Tide lost a few key pieces in the offseason, including Dee Milliner, Nico Johnson, and Jesse Williams, but there remains plenty of talent in Tuscaloosa.

After earning consensus First Team All-America honors in 2012, C.J. Mosley (107 tackles, eight TFL, four sacks, two interceptions) is a front-runner for the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker. The Tide seem to never have a lack of playmakers at linebacker, and this season is no different, with Trey Depriest (59 tackles), Adrian Hubbard (11 TFL, seven sacks, three FF) and Xzavier Dickson (33 tackles, 3.5 sacks) all returning.

In the secondary, Deion Belue (two picks, nine passes defended) will take over as the top corner in the absence of Milliner. Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix has shown game-changing ability with five interceptions a year ago.

The good news for Virginia Tech is that quarterback Logan Thomas returns. A second-team All-ACC selection in 2011, the 6-6, 254-pound Thomas was supposed to have a breakout season in 2012. That didn't happen, as he completed a mere 51.3 percent of his passes, for 2,976 yards, with 18 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. Thomas was also the team's top rushing threat, amassing 524 yards and nine TDs on the ground.

Depth in the backfield has taken a hit with key injuries to J.C. Coleman (492 yards, two TDs) and Tony Gregory (299 yards, one TD). Coleman is currently sidelined with ankle injuries but he will return to the field. The news isn't so optimistic for Gregory, who tore his left ACL, effectively ending his career at Virginia Tech. The lack of depth however, could help showcase redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds (6-1, 215) this season.

An area of great concern for Logan is the losses in the receiving corps. Gone are playmakers Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts, leaving sophomore Demetri Knowles (19 receptions, 240 yards, one TD) as the top returning receiver.

The strength of Virginia Tech in 2013 will be defense. The Hokies played well down the stretch in 2012 and with nine starters returning to the mix, the hope is that it will carry over into 2013.

Tech will rely on getting pressure up front from senior ends James Gayle (43 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 27 QBH) and J.R. Collins (31 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 20 QBH).

All-ACC First-Team selection Jack Tyler is a budding superstar at linebacker after leading the team in tackles (119) and TFL (10.5) in 2012. The unit took a hit when recently with a season-ending shoulder injury suffered by sophomore LB Ronny Vandyke, but the squad will get a healthy Tariq Edwards back after an injury-plagued 2012.

The secondary will eventually return all four starters in junior safeties Kyshoen Jarrett (83 tackles, 4.5 TFL) and Detrick Bonner (60 tackles, 10 PBU, one INT) and senior cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (52 tackles, two INTs) and Antone Exum (48 tackles, 16 PBU, five INTs). Exum earned Second-Team All-ACC honors in 2012, but an ACL tear in a pickup basketball game in January has pushed his expected return to the field to October.

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