‘Bama opens against Va. Tech in Atlanta

Published on Friday, 8/30/13, at 10:05 a.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Alabama’s quest for a third consecutive national title and a fourth in five seasons begins Saturday at the Ga. Dome in Atlanta when it takes on Va. Tech.

As of early Friday afternoon, most betting shops had the Crimson Tide installed as a 21-point favorite with a total of 46 for ‘over/under’ wagers. Gamblers can take the Hokies on the money line for a +800 payout (risk $100 to win $800).

On Thursday, most books had ‘Bama favored by 20 with a total of 45.5.

These programs met at this same venue for the 2009 season opener. On that night, Frank Beamer’s team led 24-23 going into the fourth quarter. Making his first career start, Greg McElroy led ‘Bama back into the lead and it eventually won by a 34-24 count as a 6.5-point ‘chalk.’

Alabama returns six starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that blasted Notre Dame 42-14 as a 10-point favorite in the BCS Championship Game. The Tide’s only loss last season came at home against Texas A&M.

A.J. McCarron is back for his senior campaign and that’s great news for the faithful in Tuscaloosa. If his career ended today, McCarron would most likely be considered the greatest quarterback in the program’s storied history. And yes, that includes Joe ‘Willie’ Namath and Kenny ‘The Snake’ Stabler.

In two seasons covering 27 games, McCarron owns a 25-2 career record and has bagged a pair of  BCS titles. In the process, the Mobile product has thrown 46 touchdown passes compared to only eight interceptions. McCaron had a remarkable 30/3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2012.

Alabama probably has the nation’s best set of wide receivers. This group is led by sophomore Amari Cooper, who hauled in 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 TDs as a true freshman. Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell and Christian Jones combined for 1,260 receiving yards and 11 TDs last season. Also, redshirt freshman Chris Black is set to make his much-anticipated debut.

Although Eddie Lacy has moved on to the NFL, the Tide remains loaded in the backfield. T.J. Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 6.3 yards per carry as a freshman. Kenyan Drake is also back after averaging 6.7 YPC and running for five scores.

If there’s an area where ‘Bama won’t be as strong, it could be on the offensive line. Now certainly, there’s still plenty of talent with this group, but it lost several players to the pros including the QB of the o-line in Barrett Jones.

The defense was the best in America in 2012, giving up only 10.9 PPG. This unit has thee All-Americans in LB C.J. Mosley, strong safety Vinnie Sunseri and free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

After posting eight consecutive double-digit win totals, Va. Tech fell on hard times last season and barely got to a bowl game. With that said, the Hokies salvaged the season somewhat by finishing on a three-game winning streak. They beat Rutgers 13-10 in overtime as two-point favorites at the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Beamer’s bunch finished 7-6 straight up, but it was a money burner with an abysmal 4-9 spread record. In fact, Va. Tech has been a great go-against team the last two seasons with a miserable 8-18-1 ATS ledger.

The key for Va. Tech this year will be the play of senior QB Logan Thomas, who threw for 2,976 yards and 18 TDs in 2012. However, Thomas completed only 51.3 percent of his throws and was intercepted 16 times.

The Hokies are going to be without three key defensive players. CB Antone Exum was a second-team All-ACC selection last season when he had five interceptions and 16 passes broken up, but he’s out until October with a knee injury. Also, starting linebacker Ronny Vandyke is ‘out’ for the season and DT Corey Marshall is also out. Marshall had 1.5 sacks and 12 QB hurries in 2012.

But the injuries don’t stop there for Va. Tech. The Hokies are going to be without their top three running backs in J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes. Also, starting TE Ryan Malleck was lost for the season this week with a torn labrum. Malleck had 17 catches for 174 yards in 2012.

For those looking at the total, keep in mind that 11 of Alabama’s 14 games last season had 47 combined points or more. The Tide averaged 38.7 PPG.

Since 2008, Alabama owns an incredible 61-7 straight-up record to go with a 42-25 against-the-spread mark.

Dating back to 1998, Va. Tech has only been a double-digit underdog five times. The Hokies are 4-1 ATS in those spots.

Kickoff is slated for 5:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–I’m off to a 2-0 start to the season after cashing winners with South Carolina and Rutgers last night. I have five picks posted for Saturday.

–Ole Miss captured a 39-35 win at Vanderbilt last night in a thrilling SEC opener for both schools. The Rebels hooked up their backers as three-point favorites thanks to Jeff Scott’s 75-yard TD run with just over a minute remaining. Vandy senior WR Jordan Matthews had a spectacular performance in the losing effort. Matthews hauled in 10 receptions for 178 yards and one TD. Vandy QB Austyn Carta-Samuels threw for 300 yards and a pair of TDs.

–Rutgers dropped a 52-51 overtime decision at Fresno St., but the Scarlet Knights hooked up their backers as 10.5-point road underdogs. The spread cover improved RU to 23-11-1 ATS as a road ‘dog since 2003. Kyle Flood elected to go for two after Rutgers matched Fresno’s TD in overtime, but the conversion attempt failed. While many media members bashed Flood on twitter, I was ok with the decision. He knew his defense was gassed and wanted the game to be decided on one play from his offense. It didn’t work, but I was fine with the decision.

–Fresno State QB Derek Carr produced monster numbers against Rutgers, throwing for 470 yards and five TDs. RU’s Gary Nova had a stellar performance, too, passing for 348 yards and five TDs.

–Hawaii produced the wildest spread cover in its 30-13 loss to Southern Cal. The Warriors hit a 60-yard TD pass with 30 ticks remaining to hook up their backers with a backdoor cover.

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