ATLANTA -- Alabama has won two straight national championships and three in the last four years with dominating defense and balanced offense.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide kicked off their quest for a third consecutive championship Saturday by drilling Virginia Tech with special teams -- something that used to be the Hokies' specialty.
Christion Jones set the tone with an early punt return for a touchdown and added a demoralizing kickoff return for a touchdown late in the first half to lead the Crimson Tide to a 35-10 win and set the stage for a showdown with Johnny Manziel and No. 7 Texas A&M in two weeks.
"I think playing against good competition like tonight helps us prepare for our league," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We played in this game (Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic) in 2008 and 2009 and I felt like those games kick-started our program and helped get us to where we are today."
Virginia Tech went three-and-out on its first series and punted the ball to Jones, who bolted through the coverage for a 72-yard score.
The lead grew to 14-0 on a short T.J. Yeldon touchdown run, putting Virginia Tech on the ropes late in the first quarter.
But on the first play of Virginia Tech's ensuing possession, Trey Edmunds found a rare seam in the middle of Alabama's defense and raced 77 yards for a score. It was the longest run against the Crimson Tide since November 2011.
The momentum wouldn't last long. Three minutes later, Alabama's Vinnie Sunseri picked off a Logan Thomas pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, putting the Tide up 21-7 early in the second quarter.
"We had a little something going there," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. "Their kid jumped it and made a good play. That was a big turning point."
Kyle Fuller picked off Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron in the second quarter, setting up Cody Journell's 29-yard field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, Jones appeared to be bottled up around the 20 but managed to squirt out of the pack and pull away from the Hokies for his second touchdown return.
The Virginia Tech defense was more impressive, recording three sacks against McCarron and limiting Alabama to 206 total yards, but the Hokies didn't get much help from their offense.
"They outplayed us up front, if you want to know the truth," Saban said. "We didn't handle their movement or their pressure. It's something we have to get better at if we want to be a good football team."
Thomas completed 5 of 26 passes for just 56 yards. McCarron was a pedestrian 10 of 23 for 110 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown pass to Jones late in third quarter, but didn't show any signs of the ingrown toenail that had his right foot in a protective boot upon arrival in Atlanta.
NOTES: Virginia Tech is now 0-8 against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP poll. ... Alabama has won 12 straight season openers. ... McCarron improved to 26-2 as a starter at Alabama. ... Edmunds finished with 132 yards, becoming only the eighth player to top 100 yards against Alabama under Saban. ... Virginia Tech outgained Alabama 212-206 in total yards. ... Next year's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta will be a doubleheader featuring Ole Miss vs. Boise State and West Virginia vs. Alabama. ... Announced attendance was 73,114.