Quarterback AJ McCarron is back to run the offense and is a playmaker heading into his final year in Tuscaloosa. Besides the challenge of winning three championships in a row for Crimson Tide, MaCarron was supplied with additional incentive by SEC coaches, who placed him as the third-best quarterback in the conference behind Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel.
Despite a user-friendly schedule, Alabama is far from a sure thing to repeat even with all the talent, especially on offense side.
In the history of polls, there have been 10 repeat champions, which date back to 1936. However, no team has been able to accomplish three straight. Thought the Tide is close to a unanimous No. 1 choice in both the AP and USA Today polls, it has been eight years since anyone has gone wire-to-wire (USC in 2004).
Yet, if any team has a chance, it is Alabama. They have the best coach in college football in Nick Saban, who recruits the finest players, has assistant coaches who make them better and sends a good majority of them to the NFL Draft.
Saban also has the luxury of utilizing a senior quarterback loaded with championship experience. The replenishments are seemingly never ending with sophomores like T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper lead the running and receiving corps.
The defense has a few spaces to fill, yet with how Nick Saban recruits; the talent is always overflowing with linebackers like C.J. Mosley.
Early college football odds for this late afternoon ESPN conflict opened Alabama -18 and the line has been ping-ponging between 20.5 and 21 points all last week. The Crimson Tide is 8-1 ATS in away encounters the first month under Saban.
Can Virginia Tech even make this a game?
Ready or not, Virginia Tech attempts to rebound from a rare off-year (7-6) under Frank Beamer. Quarterback Logan Thomas has worked to improve throwing motion off a 16 interceptions season (18 TD passes) and has a better attitude about working with his receivers, whom he was not always in-sync with last season.
"I think he [Thomas] understands, 'Hey, this is his team,'" Coach Beamer said. "I think he's more take-charge. I think Logan handles things real well, and how he handles taking charge, I think he handles it in a good way -a very natural way."
Yet the Hokies are far from a confident bunch after last season and they have been crushed with major injuries in August. Linebacker Ronny Vandyke and running back Tony Gregory are lost for the season and starting offensive lineman Mark Shuman will be out a month or more after knee surgery. Plus, starting tailback J.C. Coleman suffered a high left ankle sprain and a right ankle sprain during a drill according to Virginia Tech football websites and is likely to miss about two weeks, making his availability for this game questionable.
An arduous task becomes even harder without all hands on deck.
Keys to look for
Alabama is an above average 16-11 ATS in non-conference action under Saban. Expect them to test Virginia Tech up the middle with their linebackers and pinch down on the defensive ends to see if the backers can pursue fast enough outside the tackles. Look for McCarron to throw outside the hashmarks if he finds soft zone coverage.
Defensively, 'Bama will bring pressure to frustrate Thomas, not fearing their wide receivers.
Virginia Tech might have the best defense in the ACC and will need their A-Game from the start. Defeating Alabama in the trenches is the task and this is where tackles Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy have to be stout.
With so little experience at several positions on offense, Thomas must maintain his poise, make great decisions and hope the running game keeps acceptable down and distance numbers.
After a great run, Virginia Tech has lost their recruiting steam and I am hard pressed to see the Hokies score more than 14 points and hold Alabama under 35 points in Atlanta. We recommend you consider Alabama for your sports picks. Roll Tide!
NCAA FB Pick: Bet 'Bama -20 on the spread at 5DimesShare your college football picks! Log on to our NCAA message boards!