The Alabama Crimson Tide kick off their 2013 season at the Georgia Dome on Saturday, squaring off against the Virginia Tech Hokies in a neutral site showdown. Television coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Alabama is coming off their third national title in four years, and enters 2013 as the top-ranked team in the land. Virginia Tech is the only non-conference opponent the Tide will play this year from a power conference. The Crimson Tide return 13 starters, including seven on offense.
The Tide actually lost a game last year, when Johnny Manziel was able to break through Alabama's excellent defense to lead Texas A&M to a five-point victory. Their only loss in 2011? Three points, in overtime, to LSU. You have to go back to October 2010 to find the last time Alabama lost a game by more than a touchdown (South Carolina, 35-21).
The Hokies are coming off a 7-6 season, but are considered one of the favorites in the ACC Coastal Division. Alabama is the only team ranked in the preseason polls that Virginia Tech plays this season. Frank Beamer's squad returns 17 starters, and ranks tenth in the nation in total returning starts. The Hokies return nine starters on defense.
The two teams opened the 2009 season at the Georgia Dome as well, with Alabama taking that game 34-24. Eventual Heisman winner Mark Ingram ran 26 times for 150 yards and a touchdown on the day, and the Alabama defense sacked Tyrod Taylor six times.
Alabama has not lost a season opener since 2001, when they dropped a home game to UCLA 20-17. Virginia Tech has won their last two season openers, after previous losses to Boise State and Alabama.
Rankings and records: Alabama is ranked first in both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll. Virginia Tech received votes in both polls. Alabama holds a 11-1 all-time lead in the series.
Vegas: Alabama is a 18.5-point favorite Saturday. The over/under is 49 points. OddsShark has more details and wagering information.
Weather: The forecast calls for isolated thunderstorms, a 30 percent chance of rain and a high of 88 degrees.
Three names to know
A.J. McCarron is the guy at quarterback for Alabama, posting one of the more ridiculous touchdown-to-interception ratios in recent college football history last year when he threw for 30 scores against three picks (two of which came during the A&M loss). McCarron's top three targets have all returned, led by star wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in an outstanding true freshman campaign last year. Also back are Kevin Norwood (29 catches, 461 yards) and Christion Jones (27 catches, 368 yards). Here's a look at Alabama's passing game.
Alabama's strength on offense has long been their running game, and that looks to be the case this year even with the departure of starter Eddie Lacy. True freshman T.J. Yeldon did a fantastic job as his back-up, running 175 times for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns, while fellow freshman Kenyan Drake had 42 carries for 281 yards and five scores. Granted, that came with an offensive line that had three All-Americans (all now gone), so the blocking up front will be a position to watch.
Logan Thomas is Virginia Tech's quarterback, and after a 2011 season where he scored 30 total touchdowns against 10 interceptions, he struggled last year, with 27 total touchdowns and 16 picks. Thomas will likely struggle even more this year, as nearly three-quarters of last year's targets are gone. The Hokies only return one receiver who had at least 20 last year - D.J. Coles, who caught 36 for 480 yards. Demitri Knowles caught 19 for 240 yards, but the rest of the pass-catchers are fairly up in the air.
Two things at stake
Alabama is looking hard at a three-peat, and while a loss here wouldn't count them out, it would certainly set them back considerably.
Virginia Tech has never beaten Alabama in the regular season, and a win here would put them back in the polls and in the national spotlight.
How to witness
Online streaming: WatchESPN