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Alabama Tops Virginia Tech in Top 10 Battle

ATLANTA - What's this, an actual top 10 headknocker the first weekend of the college football season? Not everyone gets to open against Charleston Southern.

(Yep, we're looking at you, Florida.)

In an age where the powerhouses routinely go shopping for pastry the first week, here was a genuine ratings-rattling showdown. Alabama rolling past Virginia Tech 34-24 Saturday night. Suffice to say - we were going to find out more from this result than USC 56, San Jose State 3.

So what'd we find out?

Alabama has defense. Alabama has offense. Alabama has a chance to make future noise, not that there was anything meek about the Georgia Dome roar Saturday night.

This was a November caliber game on Sept. 5. There were five lead changes in the first half - which is not easy to do when each team scores only one offensive touchdown.There was a sixth early in the fourth quarter; a six-yard Mark Ingram touchdown run that put Alabama ahead to stay.

There was a lot of defense early, and then a splash of offense late. Something significant was at stake, while the scores of meaningless season-opening laughers came in from other outposts. The winner would already be a force who required watching in the upper echelons of the polls, having left the first weekend with an enormously meaningful prize.

Alabama's defense seemed completely BCS-ready, allowing only 11 first downs and 155 yards of Virginia Tech offense. But when the Tide needed punch, they found that too, mostly with Ingram and his 150 yards rushing.

The NCAA just cleared Ingram this week of some possible extra benefit violations. The Tide might want to send a thank you note. Without him, it would have been far heavier lifting.

Not that Virginia Tech's defense was exactly pliable, until it wore down. There were so many kicks on goal early in the game, it looked like Manchester United against Chelsea.

We also found out Beamerball is alive and well. It is never a matter of IF Virginia Tech will score with its defense or special teams. It's how and when.

Dyrell Roberts' 98-yard kickoff return in the first half was the 121st non-offensive touchdown in the Beamer era. He is the 31st different Beamer player to score a touchdown on special teams. It is the fastest growing club this side of Facebook.

We discovered how much a game like this can hurt for a team with such ambitious plans as Virginia Tech. Already, getting in the hunt for a national title game is problematical. Already, the Hokies need help.

If the game seemed to be played on a rather mature level, no wonder. What do you see in a college football game that you can't see in a college basketball game? Besides clipping? A parade of upperclassmen. The two teams combined have 22 graduate players on their roster. Greg McElroy, the Alabama quarterback, graduated with honors in three years.

His production was not always magna cum laude Saturday night. But then, he never had to worry about Virginia Tech's pass rush in business marketing class. And his 48-yard pass to Marquis Maze in the fourth quarter was the play that turned it around for Alabama.

Soon after, the game was in hand, and the Alabama crowd broke into the required chant -- "SEC! SEC!."

The Tide will now get two rewards. First will be a bump further up the polls, with Oklahoma losing. Then will come consecutive home games against Florida International and North Texas.

Meanwhile, we should take a moment to commiserate with the loser. It's not the best feeling for a national title contender such as Virginia Tech to own a defeat before Labor Day.

But that's what happens when you play a first game like this one - and not against the Citadel.

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