When the Alabama Crimson Tide last played Virginia Tech in the 2009 season opener at the Georgia Dome, it mostly lived up to the hype of a top 10 matchup. Alabama overcame breakdowns in discipline and on special teams to outlast the Hokies, 34-24.
The Tide and Tech meet again Saturday in the Georgia Dome, and it's hard to construct a scenario under which this game will come down to the fourth quarter. Alabama is a three- touchdown favorite against a team which was hit hard by injuries in the preseason, especially at cornerback.
But the two-time national champions are aware that taking the Hokies for granted won't please coach Nick Saban or their rabid fans.
"Everybody has a time and era in college football," quarterback AJ McCarron told al.com. "USC went through it. Florida went through it. Miami went through it for all those years. Our biggest thing to me is, why does your time and era have to end?"
It might not end this year with McCarron gunning for his third straight national title. He leads an offense which could be the most explosive in Saban's seven years, featuring game-breakers at tailback (T.J. Yeldon) and wide receiver (Amari Cooper).
While the defense sustained some pretty serious graduation and early NFL entry hits, it welcomes back big-time linebackers in C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard. And the tireless recruiting of Saban's staff has built up four and five-star players to take the place of the departed stars.
So it's time to play real games and see what kind of identity this team builds. Wide receiver Kenny Bell thinks he knows what it will be.
"This offense can be very explosive," he said to al.com. "It can be the best."
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH VS. VIRGINIA TECH
--The Tide had a whopping 16 players named to the coaches' preseason All-SEC teams. RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, LT Cyrus Kouandijo, LB C.J. Mosley and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were first team picks. They also had seven second team selections and four third team choices.
--Alabama's 2014 schedule was announced recently and it will again start the season with a neutral-site game in the Georgia Dome against West Virginia on Aug. 30. Florida rotates back on the schedule, visiting Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 20, and the Tide goes to LSU on Nov. 8. The school is still hunting one more non-conference game to be played in Tuscaloosa.
--QB AJ McCarron may be gunning for history in terms of a third straight national title, but he didn't get much respect from SEC coaches. He was named to the third team, behind Georgia's Aaron Murray (first team) and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
Notes: LB Trey DePriest was suspended during preseason camp for "violation of team rules," but could play in the season opener ... WR Kevin Norwood (toe) sat out a recent practice as a precaution, although he's hopeful of playing in the season opener. Norwood had surgery on the toe during the offseason after it bothered him off and on during 2012. ... WR Marvin Shinn transferred to South Alabama and will be eligible to play in 2014. Shinn caught six passes last year for 42 yards, including a couple in Alabama's national championship rout of Notre Dame.
--Team correspondents from The Sports Xchange contributed to this report.