Virginia Tech takes on Crimson Tide

Published 1:22 am Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thirty years ago, Virginia Tech was a mere blip on Alabama’s schedule radar as the Tide regularly appeared in national championship conversations.

For Virginia Tech, however, facing Alabama was nothing more than a big payday to stuff the athletic department coffers. Survival trumped sanity.

That all changed in the last meeting between the two schools.

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The Hokies shelled Bama 38-7 in the 1998 Music City bowl. Since then, Virginia Tech has borne the label of a rising star among college football’s elite – Bama has battled NCAA sanctions and football mediocrity.

Then came Nick Saban. He is the one coach since Gene Stallings who has the chance — and skills — to climb up on the conversation pedestal that includes the names of Bear Bryant, Stallings, Frank Thomas and other Alabama coaching legends.

Until Saban’s arrival at the Capstone, Bama football fortunes had been a bitter pill to swallow for the faithful. And this year, even Saban’s resume has an objective.

In the last 17 years, neither Alabama’s storied football program nor Saban’s meteoric rise among college head coaches — fourth best among those with 10 or more years at the top — has yielded back-to-back 10-win seasons.

The effort to correct those statistics begins in earnest tonight in Atlanta when fifth-ranked Bama takes on seventh-ranked Virginia Tech in the Chik-Fil-A Kickoff.

Coming off a 12-2 season of a year ago and Saban’s crafting of top five recruiting classes the last two years, Bama hopes to make this another special season. Until last year, however, the football fortunes of Alabama and Virginia Tech were traveling in opposite directions.

With nearly everyone back on defense, Alabama is primed to put one of the nation’s best defensive units on the field to try to stop Virginia Tech’s elusive dual-threat quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. It is the offense, rather, that will have the biggest challenge.

Facing “Beamerball” and the genius of Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Bama’s offense will open with first-year starter Greg McElroy at quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line trying to replace two departed All-Americans. It will be a major test for the Tide.

Alabama’s ability to protect McElroy and open holes for a bevy of quality running backs, along with the ability to contain Taylor on defense, will be critical to the Tide’s success tonight. It is doubtful Bama can explode against the Hokies like last year’s opening-game thumping of Clemson, but the Tide will win, 20-13.

Scoop Rivers, a former sportswriter for the Mobile Press, lives in Selma and is a Trust Officer with BankTrust.