TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban doesn't blush, he fumes. Ask the enigmatic, often high-handed coach of the Crimson Tide about being ranked No. 1 and you'll see his nostrils flair as he grips the podium in disdain. Polls, especially those done before the start of the season, are useless to him. He'll say politely that they appreciate the recognition, but that's merely a preamble to a sermon on their worthlessness. The rest of college football might see his team as the front-runner to reach the national championship, but he sees a team that's yet to accomplish a single thing.
"You can make any kind of predictions that you want about what you think you have or what you think you are," Saban said, "but until you actually go and play a game and see how your team's going to respond [you don't know.]"
Frank Beamer sees it another way. He has watched the tape and studied Alabama's roster in preparation for Saturday's season opener in Atlanta. He knows all about AJ McCarron, Amari Cooper and the Tide's stifling defense, led by All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley. And what he's seen in film study is a team that's fully justified of its position atop the polls.
"They've just got it all," Virginia Tech's veteran head coach told reporters, repeatedly calling Alabama the No. 1 team in the country. "They do everything well."
It could have been a classic coaching maneuver, praising the opponent into a false sense of security, but Beamer sounded downright resigned to defeat during a roughly 20-minute teleconference on Monday. He was asked whether he had found any area of Alabama's game he felt the Hokies could exploit, and he said there was none to be had, going so far as to praise Alabama's punter, Cody Mandell, rattling off his 44.3 yards per punt average from a season ago.
"I don't think they have a weakness," he explained. "They're just as solid as the day is long."
Saban and Beamer aren't new to this song and dance. With 80 years of coaching experience between them, they know how to play to expectations. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game means something different to each team. For Alabama, the stakes are high. It could either be the first step or the fatal fall in the Tide's run toward the championship. For Virginia Tech, the stakes are far less dramatic. The goal is to win, but the more realistic venture is to simply improve as a football team.
"Sometimes when you have runaway wins to start the season, you don't really find what you need to work on or sometimes that's not as clear," Beamer said. "I think playing a team like Alabama, you become a better football team. We understand what a task it is to go in there and beat Alabama. But it's not often that you get a chance to play the best team in the country, the number one team in the country. I think there's plusses, it's certainly a challenge and we know what kind of game we have to play to have a chance."
Is it fair to call the Hokies underdogs? Beamer thinks so.
"I think facts are facts," he said. "We are. I don't think you'll see many people, if any, picking us."
Even with his team favored by three touchdowns, Saban isn't sleeping on Virginia Tech. Always the cynic, he's concerned about how some of his younger players will perform and how the Tide's rebuilt offensive line will play together in its first meaningful action. Alabama lost 10 starters from a year ago, and there are 11 true freshmen on the two-deep depth chart. The ratio is enough to give any coach chills.
"I'm not disappointed in the way we've prepared and the way we've practiced, the things we've done," Saban said. "I'm anxious to see how it all comes together when we play a game."
The seventh-year head coach of the Crimson Tide called Hokies' quarterback Logan Thomas "an outstanding player" that will be "a big challenge for our defense." He went on to praise both the their defense and special teams, saying the first-team defense looked "dominant at times" during their spring game. In the end, though, Saban kept coming back to Virginia Tech's head coach, a man who has the most wins of any current coach in college football.
"I've known Frank for a long time," Saban said. "I think he's certainly a class guy that's a credit to college football in everything that he does, from how he represents our game with a lot of class and integrity and the outstanding job he's done as a coach in terms of the product that he's put on the field on a consistent basis over a long period of time.
"I mean, 27 years is a long to be someplace and to have the consistent success that he's had over time, you have to have a tremendous amount of respect for that."