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August 31, 2013

Staff Picks: Hokies & Tide

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We'll know plenty about Virginia Tech after the first game. We'll either have confirmed what the majority of us thought, that Alabama will march towards another national title shot, or that the Hokies are a gritty bunch who despite long odds, did the unthinkable and pulled off a monumental upset.

We take our shots at calling what will happen at today's 5:30 pm ET kickoff.

Jason Stamm, publisher

You'd be hard-pressed to find many people who think Virginia Tech has a chance against Alabama, much less win. The Hokies are a 20.5-point underdog, the biggest deficit the odds-makers have bestowed on them since they played top-ranked Miami in 1992.

But is Virginia Tech that far apart from the Crimson Tide? On paper, yes and based on last season, yes. The Hokies' injuries and other losses don't help, either.

To me, the biggest question is Virginia Tech's offense. Will senior quarterback Logan Thomas bounce back? Does he have any help with his playmakers? Will the offensive line hold up? Will the offense even score?

As good as Alabama is on offense, the Hokies' defense is just about as stout. Of course, that also depends on how true freshmen Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson and redshirt freshman Josh Trimble handle their first career collegiate game.

The Crimson Tide aren't invincible. My guess is they make at least one mistake at some point, but whether Virginia Tech can capitalize is another story. I do think that happens and could result in the lone touchdown I believe the Hokies get.

Virginia Tech is plenty overmatched, but I think the defense is good enough to at least help the Hokies cover the spread. Of course, that's easier when the odds are what they are. Unless that is, Virginia Tech's offense helps the Tide defense out…

PREDICTION: Alabama 31-16

Doug Bowman, senior writer

Make no mistake; this is about as uphill battle as it gets for the Hokies. Alabama's concerns on the offensive line seem minor compared to what the Hokies face, as at least they have a star in Cyrus Kouandijo. In fact, I think Alabama will have the five best players on the field on Saturday (Cooper, McCarron, Mosley, Kouandijo, Yeldon), and that is incredibly difficult to overcome.

Virginia Tech wins this in one way. Bud Foster puts on a clinic, the defensive line abuses what Nick Saban's fears is a suspect offensive line, and the Hokies are able to slow down Cooper downfield. The Hokies grind out a few drives, create a turnover or two to setup a short field, dominate the field position game, and get just enough points to knock off the Tide. This would be something like a 23-20 game, as I don't see McCarron being held down for four quarters.

More than likely though, this one will go similarly to the 2009 game, albeit with a much steeper decline in the second half. Opening game jitters will be there for both teams and the defenses will be all amped up and ready to hold teams to some field goals. I could see a competitive first half finish at something like 17-9 Alabama, with the Crimson Tide really pulling away in the second half.

PREDICTION: Alabama 34-16

Mike Stancik, staff writer

Let's be brutally honest for a second. If Alabama and Virginia Tech squared off ten times, the Tide would probably win nine. It's not exactly a stretch when coach Frank Beamer says this is the best team he's ever faced. Alabama really is that dominant.

It must play a near perfect game, but Virginia Tech has each of the characteristics needed to contend with the two-time defending national champion: The Hokies have a mobile, do-it-all quarterback that can make something out of nothing (Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton are the previous two to defeat the Tide) and most importantly, they have a defense that can compete with any team in the country. There's no question in my mind that there's an opportunity for the Hokies' front seven to dominate their matchup. And if they do so, Bama will have to beat Virginia Tech through the air.

I think Kendall Fuller and Facyson are ready for this stage despite the fact that neither has played a college snap, and they will be the X-factors in containing a dynamic receiving corps. Offensively, I can't wait to see Scot Loeffler's new scheme (don't want to give it away yet), and truly believe Virginia Tech can put up some points because of it.

However, the reason I'm picking the Hokies is because of the intangible factors. Virginia Tech players are coming into 2013 with a chip on their shoulder bigger than any of the previous 20 years, and have heard all about how they are likely to get thoroughly beaten in the Georgia Dome. Conversely, Alabama players have fielded constant questions about three-peating and the Texas A&M game next week.

Instead of choosing one of those nine scenarios where Alabama is victorious, I'm going with the improbable one. The one where I'm likely to receive eye-rolls and head shakes. A determined Thomas puts himself back on the map with a brilliant performance, and the defense proves it will be one of the best units in the country, with the Hokies narrowly pulling off their greatest win in school history.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 23 Alabama 20


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