Alabama ripe to humiliate USC?
With the start of the season coming closer into focus, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for Alabama fans to ask: Is it possible the Crimson Tide open with a blowout win?
Granted, the team begins the season against a traditional powerhouse in the USC Trojans. However, if you scan back since the start of 2012, when Alabama embarrassed Michigan 41-14, the Tide has handled respected programs in season openers.
USC often plays its first game of the season at home but has an impressive record when that is not the case. The Trojans are 13-1 when playing away from home during the first game of the season.
Still, this is a totally different opponent than the ones they’ve seen.
During the last four seasons, Alabama has opened with wins. Two of the opponents were ranked (Michigan and Wisconsin), while two traditionally fielded strong teams (Virginia Tech and West Virginia). Suffice it to say, Alabama is worthy of the multiple services that have it being the double-digit favorite to beat USC.
Probably the three biggest factors for a possible blowout include: quarterback, defensive line and coaching.
Typically, Alabama struggles against teams with mobile quarterbacks who either have the ability to make circus throws or have strong arms. Johnny Manziel and Nick Marshall fit the former description, while Cardale Jones and Chad Kelly fit the latter description.
USC presumptive quarterback Max Browne fits neither description. The redshirt junior is considered the favorite to be the starter, although it is possible redshirt freshman Sam Darnold could win the job. While Browne is more of a pocket passer, Darnold offers more in the way of mobility. However, Browne does have a decent arm.
Losing Cody Kessler is definitely a tough blow. Statistically, he was among the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 just behind Jared Goff and Luke Falk. Kessler earned Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention and set the school record for completion percentage.
However, Browne has greater arm strength, so the Trojans could be more dangerous down the field. Browne will likely struggle at times because of inexperience, and he’ll struggle in this game due to being in the spotlight against a strong defense.
Nevertheless, the Trojans return 10 offensive starters, plenty of weapons for Browne. He’ll also have an experienced offensive line to try to contain game-wreckers Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams. USC also returns experienced running backs Justin Davis and Ronald Jones.
If there is one difference-maker who could help the Trojans pull off the upset, it is probably JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, racked up 1,454 yards and 10 TDs last season and was named a Second-Team All-American. He has the size to challenge Alabama’s physical corners and the speed to make game-changing plays.
While quarterback is the only major question on the offensive side of the ball, the defense contains multiple question marks, especially on the defensive line.
While the front has several talented players, those said players are relatively untested with just four starts last season combined (and USC runs a 5-2 defense, too). It will be interesting to see how the USC defensive line handles the powerful offensive linemen of Alabama.
What is possibly the biggest wild card is the USC coaching staff. Most know what to expect of Nick Saban, Lane Kiffin and even Jeremy Pruitt. Technically speaking, this is Clay Helton’s first full season at the helm. His offensive coordinator Tee Martin, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special teams coordinator John Baxter are new to the job.
Martin served as USC’s passing game coordinator previously, while Pendergast was on Kiffin’s USC staff for a year. Likely, things will be very similar on both sides of the ball, but this staff on the whole is still a bit of a question mark.
More will be known on Sept. 3 in Arlington. There’s evidence to suggest USC will make the game competitive, but at least for now, it feels safe to bet on Alabama.