Alabama game could determine course of season for Hokies

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

It will be a deja vu Saturday for the ACC -- a top-10 team bearing the burden of representing the conference on the national stage against Alabama in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Week 1.

Virginia Tech, though, is obviously hoping for a different outcome than the embarrassing 34-10 drubbing Clemson suffered last year, which sent the Tigers’ season into a tailspin and helped make the ACC the punch line of college football for the first two weeks.

The Hokies did their part for redemption in 2008 by beating Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl, but this year, their hopes are higher, and a win over Alabama would be the first step in proving that, yes, Virginia Tech can contend for this year’s national title, even without star running back Darren Evans. There’s no denying the weight a win would carry for both Virginia Tech and the ACC, but coach Frank Beamer has tried -- seemingly successfully -- to temper the importance of this game to his players.

“There’s no question, it would do a lot for Virginia Tech, and it would do a lot for the ACC,” Beamer said. “We’re going to try like heck to win this thing, but I don’t think you can put all your eggs in one basket the first game of the season.

“You’ve still got games to play if you beat Alabama, and you’ve still got games to play if you lose to Alabama.”

It’s a message that has resonated throughout the locker room.

“It would mean a lot for the program, but Coach Beamer is right,” said quarterback Tyrod Taylor. “It doesn’t make or break your season. We still have plenty of games to play after this game, and that’s one thing he’s stressing to us -- we have to take it one game at a time and go out and stay focused in each game.”

With only five seniors on the two-deep roster, Virginia Tech is still a very young team, especially with the loss of Evans for the season to a torn ACL. Maybe, Beamer said, too young. Alabama starts the season ranked No. 5 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ polls. Unfortunately for the Hokies, that doesn’t bode well. Virginia Tech is 1-24 against AP top 5 teams, and 1-10 in the series against Alabama. Tech is also 0-1 all-time in the Georgia Dome, and 26-49-5 against current SEC schools.

While Virginia Tech has breezed through ACC opponents since joining the conference in 2004, winning three of the past five ACC titles, it has struggled to make the most of opportunities like these and hasn’t played for the national title in a decade. Had the Hokies performed better in their 48-7 loss to LSU in 2007, that game might have boosted them into the national championship. Both teams finished the regular season 11-2, but Virginia Tech earned the No. 3 spot in the BCS standings while LSU played Ohio State for the national title.

While Beamer is right in the sense that the Hokies’ season isn’t over if they lose to Alabama on Saturday, the 2007 season is a haunting reminder that their national championship hopes could be.