ATLANTA (AP) - For Alabama and Virginia Tech, the first game can't get here soon enough.
The No. 5 Crimson Tide and the seventh-ranked Hokies will meet Saturday night in a bowl-like atmosphere at the sold-out Georgia Dome, both looking to score early points in the national championship race after enduring a that-wasn't-in-the-plans preseason.
Virginia Tech lost star running back Darren Evans, who went down in practice with a season-ending knee injury.
At Alabama, the days leading up to the season opener were filled with off-the-field travails. Defensive end Brandon Deaderick was shot in the arm during a robbery attempt. Meanwhile, receiver Julio Jones and running back Mark Ingram needed clearance from the NCAA after taking a Gulf Coast fishing trip with a businessman.