ATLANTA -- Alabama's championship defense begins today in the Georgia Dome against perennial ACC power Virginia Tech.
Frank Beamer's Hokies have been hit hard by injuries and attrition leading up to the start of the season, prompting their heavy underdog status. Logan Thomas, Beamer's senior quarterback with NFL potential, gives Virginia Tech a fighting chance, though. If he can buy some time in the pocket for his young receivers and gain a few yards on the ground, he could make things interesting.
Meanwhile, Nick Saban's No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide is operating at full strength, with no significant injuries to report. Quarterback AJ McCarron was a major point of discussion Friday night when a photo circulated of his arrival at the team hotel with a protective boot on his right foot. But the controversy was cleared up in short order when it was learned the boot was simply a precautionary step to alleviate pain from an ingrown toenail.
McCarron jogged briskly onto the turf here for warmups, sans boot, and moved around without any apparent pain, much to the pleasure of the Tide fans who made the short trip from Tuscaloosa, Ala. McCarron has arguably his most explosive group of receivers since joining the program in 2009, and with Virginia Tech using two freshmen in the secondary, we could see him put the ball in the air early and often to start the game.
That could be predicated on the success of Alabama's rebuilt offensive line, though. UA incorporated three new starters over the offseason, replacing All-SEC players Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker. Reports have been mostly good about their replacements -- center Ryan Kelly, right tackle Austin Shepherd and left guard Cyrus Kouandjio -- but until they see live action it will be hard to tell where they stand, as their chemistry and compatibility is in question.