Dateline: Atlanta. Intermittent chants of “S-E-C!” and “Roll Tide!” rain down as true freshman running back becomes the fifth Alabama Crimson Tide player to reach the end zone. His touchdown jaunt puts the fourth quarter bow on two-time defending national champion’s deconstruction of a retooling Virginia Tech team. Final score: Alabama 49, Virginia Tech 7
Admit it. The above opening paragraph fits your expectations for this weekend’s Alabama-Virginia Tech recap.
I am not in the business of second guessing Las Vegas, because frankly, the sharps know what they’re doing. Admittedly though, the line for Alabama-Virginia Tech baffles me.
The Crimson Tide are just 181/2 favorites against a Hokie bunch breaking in a new offensive coordinator — one whose Auburn side struggled mightily, particularly against the Alabama defense.
Scot Loeffler begins his tenure overseeing the Virginia Tech offense not just paired up against the nation’s premier defense, but with a rash of running back misfortune that would make even Iowa fans sympathetic. J.C. Coleman has two sprained ankles; Tony Gregory tore his ACL; Michael Holmes was dismissed from the team; Joel Caleb is suspended.
No matter. Playing behind an offensive line that Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Mike Barber writes has a combined 27 starts isn’t conducive to any rusher breaking out, as it is.
Barber’s dispatch says Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer “feels nervous.” With Jonathan McLaughlin, a true freshman, starting at left tackle, can you blame him? McLaughlin is charged with protecting the blind side of quarterback Logan Thomas, a talented play maker who struggled through an immensely disappointing 2012 campaign. And the freshman is tasked with doing so against a tenacious pursuit, responsible for 35 sacks a season ago.
Thomas is a capable rusher, and could be left scrambling for his life all too often come Saturday.
Virginia Tech has been among the most consistent programs of the last decade-plus. The Hokies are regular fixtures atop the ACC, and have an almost standing invitation to the BCS. Tech reached one of the prestigious bowls four of five seasons, from 2007 through 2011.
But last year’s 7-6 finish exposed a crack in the armor. The Hokies finished strong, but the three straight wins they gained simply secured an above-.500 record.
Even with the disappointing run last year and turnover into 2013, Virginia Tech remains a viable competitor in the ACC. The conference’s Coastal division is a four-team crap shoot, with the Hokies battling Miami, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Any could conceivably reach the conference championship game, but any setback could cost them dearly.
That’s what makes the Alabama game such a no-win for the Hokies. Anything can happen on any Saturday, and that’s why the Hokies will take the field. But realistically, this Virginia Tech team is simply too out-matched to mount an upset bid.
Instead, Tech could be thrown into survival mode. Escape Atlanta with pride and health in tact. Losing more players to injury or psychologically rattling the team has much greater ramifications beyond one evening of hearing “S-E-C!” chants.
Beamer is one of the best coaches in the game and has a knack for inspiring overachievement. He may need to do his best work yet after this Saturday.
You can still find tickets available for Saturday night’s Kickoff Classic from PrimeSport. There is lower level seating available for as low as $157.