“These games, playing in these neutral-site games, have a history of giving our team great momentum and a great start and great exposure,” Saban said. “Our fans have always demonstrated great enthusiasm for this game, these games.”
In three of Saban’s six seasons at Alabama, the Crimson Tide has begun the year with a neutral-site game against a major non-conference opponent.
Two of those games propelled the Tide on national championship runs (Virginia Tech in 2009, Michigan in 2012). The other game resurrected Alabama football and helped the Tide to an undefeated regular season (Clemson in 2008).
Saban expects a similar enthusiasm when the Tide battles the Hokies on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
“I think it’s going to be very important that we show the same thing in this particular game,” Saban said. “The history of these games has made a significant impact on the success that this program has had. We obviously want to go there and get ready to do a good job against a very good team.”
For the Tide, Saban sees these types of games as added motivation for players.
“When you play a good opponent in the first game, it really helps enhance your offseason program, your spring practice, your summer conditioning, because players are looking forward to the challenge of playing an outstanding opponent early,” Saban said.
Hokies coach Frank Beamer has said on multiple occasions this matchup will be a good benchmark to see where Virginia Tech is as a program. The Hokies are coming off a 7-6 season, their worst in 20 years.
“When you’re getting evaluated against the best team in the country who is really particularly good in all aspects, you do get a great evaluation of where you are as a football team and know what you need to improve on,” Beamer said.
Beamer prefers a tough game out of the gate as opposed to running through a few cupcakes to start the year.
“Sometimes when you have runaway wins to start the season, you don’t really find what you need to work on or sometimes that’s not as clear,” he said. “I think playing a team like Alabama, you become a better football team. We understand what a task it is to go in there and beat Alabama.
"But it’s not often that you get a chance to play the best team in the country, the number one team in the country. I think there’s plusses, it’s certainly a challenge and we know what kind of game we have to play to have a chance.”