Alabama-Virginia Tech Preview

The Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- - Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron offers a primer for what it takes to fit in with the top-ranked Crimson Tide football team.

For starters, don't fixate on the shot at a historic three-peat, BCS-or-bust expectations or the anointment by pollsters as the team to beat.

It's all about Virginia Tech, taking it one game at a time, staying focused and all the other cliches that get trotted out in the football building each year about this time. In short, ignore what coach Nick Saban puts under the ''external factors'' umbrella.

''I feel like if you don't think that way, you're kind of irrelevant a little to the team,'' McCarron said Monday. ''Everybody needs to have the same mindset. We can't worry about what everybody thinks, what everybody's predicting. Just go out and play the game and take one play at a time, one game at a time and we'll be all right.''

That starts Saturday in Atlanta with the Hokies, who are coming off a 7-6 season.

But hard as the coaches and players try to ignore it, the Tide are aiming to make history. Major college football has had repeat national champs 10 times since the first AP poll in 1936. None, however, has made it three in a row and none has gone wire-to-wire at No. 1 since USC in 2004.

But Alabama has the expectations born of winning 49 games and three national titles the last four seasons. The exception was a 2010 team that opened at No. 1 and lost a whopping - by the Tide's current standards - three times.

Right or wrong, that season became an oft-cited example of what can happen if a team buys into the hype.

''It's an example but we've been preaching that for years now,'' McCarron said. ''We can't worry about it. That was a different team then and it's a different team now. Got different players and different mindsets among the team as individuals. We've got to focus on our goal this year, our purpose to be out there. You don't really win the game on Saturday. You win it every day before that.''

Once again, Alabama, which went 13-1 in 2012, has a chance to make a statement early. The Tide have played a ranked team from a BCS conference other than the SEC in the first or second game each of the past five seasons and won all of them. The closest call was when fifth-ranked Alabama beat No. 7 Virginia Tech 34-24 to start the 2009 title season, including a 41-14 rout of No. 8 Michigan last year in Arlington, Texas.

The Hokies aren't ranked but Saban calls them a ''good all-around team.''

This time the Tide have back-to-back potential statement games, counting the Sept. 14 visit to No. 7 Texas A&M after an open date. Last season's 29-24 loss to the Aggies marked Alabama's only blemish.

Saban has had few public gripes about his team's attitude or focus during preseason camp, a good sign with a coach who's not given to sugarcoating. Monday he praised the team's work ethic and the way the leadership is developing.

It helps that senior leaders McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley also happen to be two of the better players.

The word ''complacency'' has likely been heard far more around the football building than ''three-peat.'' How often?

''You don't want to say too many times because that's a pretty complacent answer,'' tight end Brian Vogler said. ''It's definitely an emphasis that we're focusing on. We really want to focus everything we have on getting our best potential out there.''

To Saban, that means concentrating on winning, not past successes.

''There's no external factors that matter at all to any player on our team,'' he said. ''It's all about how they perform in this game. It's not what they did last year, it's not about the girlfriend, it's not about anything but playing this game. None of it means anything unless you make it mean something.''

Virginia Tech will be looking for a bounce-back year after its nation-best streak of eight straight 10-win seasons was snapped in 2012. The Hokies needed to win their last two games just to qualify for the postseason and did, then went on to defeat Rutgers 13-10 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

''That was unacceptable by any means,'' offensive lineman Andrew Miller said.

There may be reason for hope with quarterback Logan Thomas returning. Thomas took a step back last year, barely completing 50 percent of his passes and recording 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, though he was throwing to an inexperienced set of players.

Coach Frank Beamer, though, has liked what he's seen out of Thomas, who led the team with 524 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground last year, during the summer and preseason.

''I think he understands, hey, this is his team,'' Beamer said. ''I think he's more take charge. I think Logan handles things real well, and how he handles taking charge, I think he handles it in a good way, a very natural way.''

Beamer's team suffered several key injuries before the season started. Outside linebacker Ronny Vandyke and running back Tony Gregory require surgery and will be lost for the season, and starting offensive lineman Mark Shuman will miss 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee.

Plus, starting tailback J.C. Coleman suffered a high left ankle sprain and a right ankle sprain during a drill and is likely to miss about two weeks, making his availability for this game questionable.

Alabama leads the all-time series 11-1.

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