Alabama versus USC: 5 reasons to watch
Alabama begins the season against USC exactly four weeks from today. With that in mind, here are five reasons to watch the spectacle in Arlington slated to air nationally on ABC:
1. Who starts at quarterback?
The biggest and most obvious reason to watch is to answer a question that has been nagging fans since the team held up the national championship trophy: Who starts at quarterback? Based on a Nick Saban press conference earlier this week, David Cornwell is a longshot to earn the job with a foot injury dating back to early summer.
Because Jalen Hurts is a true freshman, he is considered a longshot. On a similar trajectory, Cooper Bateman is the favorite because he is the only one in the competition with game experience. Last season, Jake Coker earned the starting job, but he was more of a tentative starter. The Alabama staff thought enough of Bateman to give him the start against Ole Miss.
Saban clearly wants a definite No. 1 and would prefer to stay with that person for the duration of the season. If a team wins a national championship, it generally sticks with one quarterback. Last season and Ohio State in 2014 are notable contradictions.
Also, on the other side, Max Browne is the clear front-runner to win the USC starting quarterback job, but he hasn’t officially earned the nod. Will the more mobile Sam Darnold be a surprise starter?
2. Lane Kiffin vs. Clancy Pendergast
A much more compelling game-specific reason to watch was stated by USC head coach Clay Helton: Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin battling wits with USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Kiffin gave Pendergast his first opportunity as USC defensive coordinator back in 2013.
Pendergast returns with the same 5-2 defense. Fans know Alabama will challenge a young USC defensive line by pounding the ball on the ground. Things will get more interesting when Kiffin airs the ball out. He’s shown greater creativity in that area than past Alabama offensive coordinators.
3. Alabama WRs vs. USC DBs
That brings us to the most intriguing on-the-field matchup: Alabama wide receivers against the USC secondary. Alabama is loaded with pass-catchers. While USC is young at the position, the team has plenty of talent. Adoree’ Jackson earned First-Team Pac-12 honors last season and Iman Marshall earned first-team freshman All-American honors.
Of course, the most interesting one-on-one matchup just might be Alabama’s fastest receiver Calvin Ridley going up against USC’s most athletic player in Jackson. Kiffin will likely try to exploit his depth advantage by turning to supporting receivers like Robert Foster or looking for a better matchup with O.J. Howard matched up with one of the safeties.
4. Can Alabama contain Schuster?
On the other side of the ball, JuJu Smith-Schuster is a home run threat at receiver. He has the speed to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball. Will Alabama be able to contain him?
Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick emerged as two of the better cornerbacks in the SEC last season, but they will definitely be tested by the speed of the USC receivers in this game. Another interesting aspect to this matchup is: Who lines up at nickel back? Shyheim Carter received praise for his work during the summer. He matched up well against the speed of Ridley.
5. Alabama offensive line
Finally, another compelling question for Alabama fans is: Who emerges as the starters on the offensive line? Alabama is solid all around or else the team wouldn’t be the preseason favorites.
That said, if there is one question mark outside of the quarterback, it would have to be the offensive line. The team lost two starters from last season and has faced many questions at various positions throughout the offseason. Cam Robinson is a lock at left tackle, but beyond that, it is anyone’s guess.
The team has tried multiple combinations, and it speaks to the team’s depth at the position that coaches have been able to test out players at different positions. If the first day of fall camp is any indication, Ross Pierschbacher has the early lead at center, Lester Cotton at left guard, Bradley Bozeman at right guard and Jonah Williams at right tackle.
Still, Korren Kirven, Dallas Warmack, Alphonse Taylor and Brandon Kennedy appear to be in the mix. Who will earn the starting jobs, and will they stick?