- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Virginia Tech fans hoping to erase memories of the 2012 season may have a difficult time when 2013 kicks off.
Say hello to Alabama.
Not exactly an ideal way to start fresh. The Hokies are coming off their worst season in 20 years. Alabama is coming off its third national title in four years. I most certainly applaud Virginia Tech for taking the challenge in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta against the Tide. Nothing wrong with playing the best.
And while the Tide are not indestructible (see A&M, Texas), they pose the toughest test for the Hokies since opening 2009 against No. 5 Alabama. (And no, I did not forget about No. 3 Boise State in 2010). Of course, Virginia Tech was better the last time it played the Tide -- going into the game with a No. 7 ranking.
Virginia Tech is not expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 25 this time around.
So, you can bet the Hokies will go into the game as major underdogs, regardless of what happens with Logan Thomas and potential offensive staff changes. Alabama will return at least 12 starters, depending on decisions a few underclassmen are going to make about the NFL.
Among those the Hokies will see: quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. All three were outstanding in their decisive win against Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship.
So what will it take for the Hokies to have any shot at the upset? Based off what we saw Monday night, here are three observations:
First and foremost: Tackle. The Irish were absolutely abysmal in this one basic skill Monday night. Now granted, Eddie Lacy and Yeldon are bears to bring down, but when you have a guy wrapped, you have to finish. Virginia Tech had its share of missed tackles in 2012, so this is an area it must improve.
Secondly, its offensive line is going to have to play light years better than it did at any point during 2012. Alabama physically dominated Notre Dame on both the offensive and defensive lines, exposing the Irish in embarrassing ways. If the Hokies cannot hold their own up front, they are going to be in for a long day.
Finally, they must convert on third down. This is an area the Hokies struggled in this past season, ranking No. 77 in the nation with a 38 percent conversion rate. A huge reason why the Irish could not stay in the game -- they could not stay on the field. Notre Dame ended up converting 2-of-8 third-down attempts. Alabama, on the other hand, converted 8-of-13 third downs.
Plenty will happen between now and Aug. 31, but it is a pretty safe bet Alabama will go into the game as the No. 1 team in the nation. Virginia Tech has a lot of improving to do between now and then.
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2dJared Shanker and Andrea Adelson