Tide schedule preview: Virginia Tech

Editor's note: The season is nearly upon us and TideNation is taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Every Tuesday and Thursday we'll go through each week of the Crimson Tide's schedule, starting with the season-opener against Virginia Tech and closing with the finale against Auburn.

The rundown

Virginia Tech Hokies

2012 overall record: 7-6

2012 ACC record: 4-4

Record all time against Alabama: 11-1

Last meeting: Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24 in 2009

Starters returning

Offense: 6; Defense: 9; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

CB Kyle Fuller, DE James Gayle, LB Jack Tyler, QB Logan Thomas

Key losses

WR Marcus Davis, OT Vinston Painter, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Alonzo Tweedy

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Thomas* (524 yards)

Passing: Thomas* (2,967 yards)

Receiving: Davis (953 yards)

Tackles: Tyler* (119)

Sacks: Taylor (5.5)

Interceptions: Exum* (5)

What they're saying:

"That kid had probably the best spring he’s ever had and we came out in the spring game, and we had a couple of picks -- a couple of which were his fault, the other one was just a poor route by the wideout. So the scrutiny begins, but to be quite honest, I’m glad it happened. It sets an edge, it sets a tone, it sets an urgency to improve," Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, to ESPN.com's Heather Dinich after Thomas' three-interception performance at the Hokies' spring game.

Three things to watch:

1. Balance on offense: It's bad enough that the quarterback is the team's leading rusher. That might be forgivable if he was averaging about 80-90 yards per game. But Logan Thomas wasn't. The athletic passer ran for a team-leading 524 yards. Say what you will about Thomas' progress as a passer and his ceiling as a quarterback, but until Virginia Tech finds some other weapons to shoulder the load, the offense is going nowhere, especially against an Alabama defense that thrives on making opponents one-dimensional.

2. Getting after AJ McCarron: If the Hokies want to pull off the upset, the pressure must come from the front seven, in particular defensive end James Gayle. The 6-foot-4, 253-pound senior turned down the NFL after earning his second consecutive selection to the second-team All-ACC squad last season. He helped Virginia Tech to a top-20 finish nationally in sacks. He and All-ACC honorable mention defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, a senior, make up a line that lost only one player.

3. The little things: Given head coach Frank Beamer's track record as a special-teams guru and Bud Foster's reputation as a defensive mind, a close game could mean big trouble for the Tide. Beamer never has been afraid to gamble on either front, and in a season-opener he could bet big on a trick play or two that could be the difference in momentum. Keep an eye on speedy sophomore wide receiver Demitri Knowles, who ended last season ranked 12th nationally in kickoff return yards with 28.33 yards per return.