GC: First off, congratulations on Alabama's back-to-back national championships. That's something to be proud of as a fan. It's clear that the program is in rare air right now in the college football landscape. What (if anything) do you see being the eventual end to this success? Saban's retirement? Complacency? Another team elevating to that level?
RBR: I really have a hard time imagining complacency becoming an issue while Saban is at the helm because he is such an adamant preacher of The Process ©. That way of thinking places all of the emphasis on the tiny details that result in personal growth rather than focusing on overarching goals that can leave players starry-eyed. It's a system that is implemented at every single layer of the organization (from recruiting, to the players on the roster, to film study coaches, to coordinators), and there's no way it's going away before Saban. So, I guess I'd have to say Saban's retirement, because it's really hard to envision a fall under Saban.
GC: These two teams faced off in 2009 in this same forum. What do you remember about that game? What is the same for Alabama? Different?
RBR: I remember being pumped up and incredibly nervous. I also remember that we debuted the wildcat formation on the first play of the game, and that the play looked like it could've gone 60 yards for a touchdown, if not for a missed block by our H-back at the time Brad Smelley. I think that one play stands as a good symbol for the game. It was just frustrating to watch, because if you couldn't see the score, you'd think Bama was dominating, and then you look up, and Bama is losing at the end of the first half. The team obviously did enough to win, but it just felt like there were a ton of missed opportunities, and as a result, the final score was much closer than the game felt. The box score seems to back up that sentiment, as the score (Bama 34, VT 24) doesn't at all resemble the total yardage (Bama 498, VT 155).
GC: Do you think we'll see something similar in this game, or are we talking about completely different circumstances?
RBR: Unfortunately, I don't see this game playing similarly. I certainly don't want to come across as disrespectful on y'all's turf here, but I really have trouble seeing this game be close. In the off seasons since we played, Bama's recruiting classes have clocked in at #5, #1, #1, and #1. Virginia Tech's rankings in that span? #23, #33, #22, and #23. I recognize that rankings don't mean everything, but when you are talking about a disparity that large over that much time, the talent differential is going to be significant. And that's before considering the losses Tech has suffered.
GC: What are your personal feelings about expanding the SEC to 16 teams? If so, who would be your ideal candidates? Is Virginia Tech one of them, or in the discussion at least?
RBR: Frankly, I would rather conference have never expanded at all. Now that that ship is sailed, I'm hopeful that we can stave off the "imminent" expansion to sixteen for as long as possible. As a football program, I wouldn't be opposed to Virginia Tech's inclusion (though I don't think they would be terribly successful without some serious upgrades in the recruiting efforts).
GC: What is the overall perception of Virginia Tech within the Alabama fan base? An annoying and pesky little fly for big time programs? A small time team trying to play with the big boys? Or a legitimate big time program that just can't seem to crack the elite level? (feel free to add other options to that question)
RBR: Geez. That's a tough one. I would say that Alabama fans probably don't have an opinion on Virginia Tech, so much as they have an opinion on Frank Beamer and the way he runs VT. Obviously, we're a fan of the defense-first, old-school mentality of football, and I think Frank Beamer represents those principles to a lot of Bama fans. Personally, I visualize VT as a second-tier program, meaning I'd probably rank them somewhere in the 20th to 30th in the country range.
GC: Alabama is returning a lot of good skill position talent on offense, but they did lose three starters on their offensive line, and perhaps their three best linemen overall. Is this the biggest concern heading into 2013?
RBR: The guys we lost are certainly leaving some big shoes to fill (in D.J. Fluker's case, that's a literal statement, as he wore 22s). I'm not sure that they were our "three best linemen overall" as returning left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is a legitimate top 5/top 3 prospect for next year's draft. I do think as far as the offense is concerned, the offensive line has to be the biggest concern pretty much by default, because we really didn't lose anything elsewhere, but I'm pretty confident in the guys that we are bringing in to fill the holes.
GC: How do you see that match up between the Crimson Tide's O-Line, perhaps their team weakness, and the Hokies D-Line, their greatest area of strength, playing out?
RBR: This is really the only matchup in which I don't feel confident. Saban has been yoyo-ing the fan base throughout fall camp by heaping praise on the offensive line after practices, only to bemoan a "lack of push" in each of the scrimmages. This could very well mean that the offensive line has the potential to struggle a bit against an elite defensive line. This matchup will be the one spot on the field that will give Bama fans a lot of meaningful information about where this team is headed.
GC: What is Alabama's weakness on the defensive side of the ball (if they have one)? If Frank Beamer were reading this (and he's not. He doesn't like blogs or the internet), what would you tell him to do?
RBR: I think if you had to say one, it would be the cornerbacks. People have been wringing their hands about that unit for months, and those concerns have been greatly amplified for this game. This is because our number one cornerback Deion Belue has been dealing with a minor nagging hamstring issue throughout fall camp. He should be fine to go in this first game, but if he goes down, our depth starts to approach dangerous levels, thanks in part to the one game suspension of cornerback Geno Smith who was arrested for DUI a week and a half ago.
GC: What was your take on the Scot Loeffler hiring by Virginia Tech? What was your feel for him in the limited time he was at Auburn last year? Do you think he's to blame for what happened offensively a year ago, or was he just saddled with a bad cast of players?
RBR: I think it's difficult to evaluate Loeffler based on Auburn's performance. He wasn't there long. They were overhauling an entire system. And the quarterback(s) they had were hot garbage. One thing that I would find troubling, though, if I were a VT fan, would be the lack of progress the Auburn quarterbacks showed over the course of last season. For someone that is supposed to have a pedigree of grooming quarterbacks, I would hope that there would be some demonstrable improvement by the players over the course of a season as they became familiar with his system and learned from him. I didn't really see any of that in Auburn.
GC: What are the expectations this season for Alabama? What would be the best case scenario and what would be the worst?
RBR: It still seems absurd to me to say that you "expect" an undefeated national championship season, but it's really hard for me to talk myself out of it. From top to bottom, this roster is as loaded as Bama has ever been, and the schedule sets up ridiculously well. The best case is obviously 14-0. I'm going to say that 11 wins after the bowl is the realistic floor for this roster and this schedule. Anything less than that, and all of our arms will have fallen off from swinging cacti in fits of rage.
GC: What if anything are you afraid of happening in this game? What do you think will happen? Who wins and by how much? (and provide a score if you have one in mind)
RBR: Again, I don't mean to sound dismissive, but if I'm being honest, the only thing I'm afraid of in this game is injuries. I just think the talent and experience differential is too great. I think the defense is going to perform really well, generating multiple turnovers. I think we're going to move the ball through the air pretty much at will, but I'm unsure of how we'll perform in the run game. The score that I predicted over at Roll Bama Roll was 45-10, Alabama. I know that may sound like a slight, but remember that last year Bama beat a decent Michigan team 42-14. I suspect this game will go similarly to that one, with Bama jumping out to a big lead, and then grinding out a low-scoring, methodical second half.
Thanks again to Josh for joining us for the Q & A. For all the news and coverage from a Crimson Tide perspective this weekend and throughout the season, make sure to check out Roll Bama Roll. My answers to their questions can be found here. For all the Hokie stuff, don't move a muscle. YOU'RE ON IT here at Gobbler Country.