College football: Alabama begins quest for three-peat
No matter how much Nick Saban protests, it's always the first thing that comes up with Alabama.
No team has ever won three straight national titles. The top-ranked Crimson Tide sure looks poised to make a run at it, led by one of the nation's top quarterbacks (AJ McCarron) and a host of talented returnees from the team that wiped out Notre Dame in last season's BCS championship game for its second straight crown and third in four years.
The Tide will get started on trying to win another Saturday, taking on rebuilding Virginia Tech at the Georgia Dome.
"Alabama's really done something special," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "I never thought there would be a team that was as dominating for as many years as they have. I never thought that would happen again in college football. I just thought the limitations in scholarships, the things were so much more equal. They've done a tremendous job."
It all starts with Saban, who refuses to let his team get complacent. He barely even celebrated after the 42-14 rout of the Fighting Irish, getting right back to work on trying to win another title.
Just don't ask him to look at the big picture. For Saban, the day-to-day grind is at the heart of any successful program, which means he's solely focused on beating the Hokies.
"This is an opportunity for our team to sort of develop an identity for this team for this season, to see if individually and collectively we can play winning football," Saban said, not a hint of joy in his voice. "Or are we going to have a bunch of blinking lights out there, where we're making a bunch of mistakes?"
Not much chance of the latter happening.
Not with McCarron, a third-year starter who knows nothing but success, guiding the offense. Not with all the offensive weapons he has at his disposal, including running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. Not with a defense led by linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix.
"They've done a tremendous job in their recruiting, and then they coach them," Beamer marveled. "What they've done is really special. We've got our work cut out for us."
Indeed, Virginia Tech is in a much different place than Alabama. The Hokies are coming off their worst season (7-6) since 1992 and eager to show this isn't a program in decline as Beamer heads into his 27th season as head coach.
With only 10 seniors on the two-deep depth chart, there's not a lot of experience. But dual-threat quarterback Logan Thomas who, at 6-foot-6 and 254 pounds, is bigger than most of the guys trying to tackle him gives Virginia Tech at least a glimmer of hope against the mighty Crimson Tide.
"Obviously they're the team to beat. They're the team everybody knows about," Thomas said. "We've just got to go and represent and just have to play well and smart and physical. If we don't have a lot of mental mistakes, we'll be just fine."
No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU
LSU has only three full-time returning starters on defense after having a team-record eight players from that side of the ball taken in the NFL draft last April.
Despite the loss of so much talent, coach Les Miles insists that in practice he's seen a typical Tigers defense. Linebacker Lamin Barrow, the top returning tackler, is ready for everyone to see what their coach means.
"I've been around these guys ... every day and I can't wait [for everyone] to see what they showed me," Barrow said. "I'm anxious as everybody is to see what goes on, but I know what those guys are capable of doing and I'm just ready for them to show everybody that they can get it done."
The first test comes Saturday night when the 12th-ranked Tigers play No. 20 TCU in the season-opening Cowboys Classic at the NFL team's stadium in Arlington, Texas. It is one of only two opening-weekend games matching Top 25 teams.
"I really don't think there's a drop-off with the defense," said sophomore cornerback Jalen Mills, another returning starter. "I think we're going to play with the same style and attitude that the defense has always played with here at LSU."
TCU, the former BCS buster starting its second Big 12 season, will be trying to make a statement for a league whose highest-ranked team in the preseason poll is No. 13 Oklahoma State behind six SEC teams.
Quarterbacks Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin will serve as offensive co-captains for the Horned Frogs. Both are expected to play, but coach Gary Patterson has refused to say who will start.
Pachall is 15-2 as TCU's starter, including 4-0 last season before leaving school for the rest of his junior season for substance abuse treatment. Boykin threw for 2,054 yards with 15 touchdowns and won three Big 12 road games as a freshman starter.
"Everybody will know when they run on the field," Patterson said.
No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson
Georgia's Aaron Murray and Tajh Boyd of Clemson are poised to put on an aerial display in Clemson, S.C.
And if the two record-setting quarterbacks have a good game Saturday when the fifth-ranked Bulldogs play the No. 8 Tigers at Death Valley, the winner will likely become an early front-runner in the Heisman Trophy race.
The seniors postponed careers in the NFL for a final college season. Now they share the spotlight in a nationally televised marquee matchup on college football's opening weekend.
Murray has led Georgia to the past two Southeastern Conference East Division titles. Boyd helped Clemson reach the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 2011, and 11 wins last year the Tigers highest victory total in 31 years.
"If you like quarterback play," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I imagine a lot of people will really enjoy this game."
Except maybe defenders on both sides of the ball.
Murray threw for 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns a year ago. He's the only SEC player to pass for 3,000 yards his first three years and, if he does it again this year, will join Hawaii's Timmy Chang and Boise State's Kellen Moore as the only players in NCAA history to accomplish to reach the milestone four straight seasons.
Murray was recently voted the SEC's first-team quarterback over Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M by league coaches.
Boyd has excelled at Clemson's high-speed offense the past two seasons. He finished with 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns last season to win the ACC player of the year.
The two were high school stars who went to the Elite 11 passing camp before college. They've stayed friendly through the years.
"It's great to see how far we've come since then and how exciting our careers have been," Murray says.
Make no mistake, Boyd says, both want to come out on top in this one.
"Always, always, especially when you've got a guy who's so high caliber," Boyd said. "You want to be the best quarterback that day. That just comes with the territory. I want to be the best quarterback" on Saturday night.
The two also found themselves called out by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as "scared" to face the South Carolina All-American. Murray and Boyd were depicted in a recent ESPN feature as fearful sleepers filled with nightmares of Clowney.
"I thought it was kind of funny," Boyd said. "They had Aaron with the slick hair. At least my guy had a helmet on."
Saturday's college football TV games
• Buffalo at Ohio St., 10 a.m., ESPN2
• Villanova at Boston College, 10 a.m., ESPN News
• William & Mary at West Virginia, 10 a.m., FS1
• Rice at Texas A&M, 11 a.m., ESPN
• BYU at Virginia, 1:30 p.m., ESPNU
• Oklahoma St. vs. Mississippi St., 1:30 p.m., Ch. 4
• Syracuse at Penn St., 1:30 p.m., ESPN2
• Temple at Notre Dame, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 5
• Nicholls St. at Oregon, 2 p.m., FS1
• Virginia Tech vs. Alabama, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
• Eastern Washington at Oregon, 4 p.m., Pac-12 Network
• Kentucky vs. W. Kentucky, 5 p.m., ESPN News
• Washington State at Auburn, 5 p.m., ESPNU
• Wofford at Baylor, 5:30 p.m., ROOT
• Georgia at Clemson, 6:07 p.m., Ch. 4
• TCU vs. LSU, 7 p.m., ESPN
• Boise St. at Washington, 8 p.m., FS1
• Nevada at UCLA, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
• Northwestern at California, 8:30 p.m., ESPN2