The road to a third straight national championship begins in Atlanta for the Alabama Crimson Tide as they meet Virginia Tech on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome.
Head coach Nick Saban had nine players drafted by the NFL this spring, including three from a historic defense that surrendered just 250 yards per game. But the Crimson Tide have reloaded with the best-ranked recruiting class in the country.
Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley should take on more of a leadership role after the departures of Nico Johnson and Jesse Williams. Mosley led Alabama with 107 tackles and four sacks, and junior linebackers Adrian Hubbard and Trey DePriest round out a solid core up the middle. Hubbard tallied a team-high seven sacks last season, and DePriest totaled 59 tackles.
Providing some stability on offense, senior quarterback and early Heisman candidate A.J. McCarron enters his third season as Saban’s field general, totaling 2,933 yards and 30 touchdown passes to three interceptions. McCarron lost top offensive lineman Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker to the NFL, putting pressure on senior Anthony Steen and junior Cyrus Kouandjio to protect their quarterback.
They will also be responsible for opening up holes for sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon, who was second on the team with 1,108 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns.
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The Hokies are also missing some key pieces, but many are due to injury and not players joining the professional ranks. Reserve running back Tony Gregory and linebacker Ronny Vandyke are both lost for the season, as his starting tight end Ryan Malleck, who suffered a tear in his left shoulder.
Redshirt freshman rusher Trey Edmunds will start his first college game due to the injuries, while senior quarterback Logan Thomas tries to rebound from a disappointing 2012 campaign. Thomas nearly evened out his 18 touchdown passes with 16 interceptions, along with a 51.3 percent completion percentage.
Despite the loss of Vandyke, Hokies defensive end James Gayel and linebacker Jack Tyler are part of a defense that brings back nine starters from last year.
The game starts at 5:30 p.m. ET and a live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here.
ESPN has the national broadcast.
Betting Odds: Crimson Tide are favored by 20.5 points.
Over/Under: 46 points
Prediction: Alabama 43, Virginia Tech 17