Season Can't Start Without Opener
The first of the Alabama national championships in the Nick Saban era was in 2009. In many ways it was the most satisfying, a perfect season beyond the final 14-0 record. It was the year of Bama's first Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram, it included a national championship victory over one of the elites of college football in Texas, and that national championship game was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena where Crimson Tide glory can fairly be said to have begun.
And that 2009 season began as will 2013, against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Bama was ranked fifth in the nation and the Hokies were ranked seventh and it was a nail-biter. In fact, there was apprehension leading up to the game because of eligibility problems for tailback Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones, problems that were resolved only days before kickoff.
The Tide, with new quarterback Greg McElroy, came from behind in the fourth quarter to take a 34-24 win. Leigh Tiffin kicked four field goals, Ingram scored on a run and a pass reception, and Roy Upchurch had a touchdown run.
Afterwards, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer called Alabama "one of the great teams in the country. They've got it," citing defense, running game, special teams play, and quarterback play.
Saban noted Bama had a lot of first game mistakes. He also said, "The thing I was most concerned about is, ‘Would we be complacent coming off last year (12-0 regular season before losses in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and Sugar Bowl)?' and that didn't happen."
The battle against complacency has been mentioned more than a few times in Alabama's pre-season work.
Alabama will meet Virginia Tech at 4:30 CDT (5:30 eastern time) Saturday with television coverage by ESPN.
Although what has gone before probably has no effect, Bama has an 11-1 advantage in games against Virginia Tech. In addition to 2009, Alabama opened the 1968 season with a 14-7 win over the Hokies and the 1969 year with a 17-13 win over Virginia Tech.
Saban has been perfect in season-openers at Alabama. He began his career as Tide head coach in 2007 with a 52-6 win over Western Carolina, defeated ninth-ranked Clemson 34-10 in Atlanta in 2008, beat San Jose State 48-3 in 2010, downed Kent State 48-7 to start the national championship run in 2011, and last year defeated eighth-ranked Michigan 41-14 in Dallas to start another national championship season.
Like most of the big boys of major college football, Alabama has a sparkling record in season-opening games. Although Saban has taken on some tough competition – and so did some previous Alabama coaches on occasion – for the most part the seasons for top teams begin with cupcakes.
Bama is 94-21-3 all-time in season openers (a winning percentage of 80.9) with a current 11-game winning streak.
All season-opening games are not created equal. Perhaps the most interesting in Alabama history came in 1966 when the Crimson Tide was going for a third consecutive national championship. Bama opened that year with a 34-0 win over Louisiana Tech. In the previous seven years, Alabama had respectable season opening games against Georgia. Playing Louisiana Tech had a negative impact for poll voters, and the Tide would finish the year with an 11-0 record – the nation's only undefeated, untied team – and yet would finish only third in the rankings.
College football historians would probably be near unanimous in the most important season-opening game in Crimson Tide history. In 1971, coming off back-to-back five-loss seasons, Alabama Coach Paul Bryant elected to switch his offense from a pro-set to the wishbone. The opening game was against pre-season number one ranked USC in Los Angeles. Alabama prevailed by 17-10 and went on to an 11-0 regular season record.
More important, many believe that win re-energized Bryant and the Tide had an amazing run of a record of 124-19-1 with three national championship over the next 12 years.
Of course, a case could also be made for Alabama's 56-0 win over a group of high school all-stars from Birmingham as being the most important season-opening game in Crimson Tide history. That's because that game on Nov. 11, 1892, was the first for what would become the most storied program in college football history.
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