#1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs #20 USC Trojans
Saturday, September 3, 2016, 8:05 pm Eastern, TV: ABC
AT&T Stadium – Arlington, Texas
Opening Line: Alabama -10
Current Line: Alabama -12
Opening Total: 54 1/2
Current Total: 52 1/2
Opening Money Line: Alabama -390 / USC +270
Current Money Line: Alabama -475 / USC +380
Two of college football’s premier blue blood programs meet in the season opener for both schools as the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide meet the #20 USC Trojans in Arlington Texas Saturday night. Alabama leads the series 5-2 but they haven’t played since the 1985 Aloha Bowl in Hawaii.
Alabama was 14-1 last year under coach Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide won their fourth national title in the last seven seasons by beating Clemson 45-40 in the championship game. USC was 8-6 and lost to Wisconsin 23-21 in the Holiday Bowl. Clay Helton was named the interim coach of the Trojans midway through last season and was given the permanent position in the offseason.
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Southern Cal averaged 438 yards per game on offense including 270 passing and 168 rushing yards. The Trojans scored 34 points a game. USC allowed 401 yards per game on defense including 252 passing and 149 rushing yards per game. The Trojans allowed 26 points per game. The Trojans were +11 in turnovers and forced 23 turnovers. USC averaged 69 penalty yards per game. The Trojans were 91/215 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents were 76/209. USC forced 38 sacks and allowed 38 as well last year. The Trojans were 50/57 scoring in the red zone with 40 touchdowns and opponents were 47/53 with 32 touchdowns.
Quarterback Cody Kessler was a third round pick by the Cleveland Browns. He threw for 3,536 yards with 29 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Redshirt junior Max Browne beat out freshman Sam Darnold for the starting job. Browne has been in the program a long time but sat patiently behind Kessler. He was the national high school player of the year in 2012.
The top two rushers are back for the Trojans. Ronald Jones II had 153 carries for 987 yards with 8 touchdowns, plus he made 7 catches including one touchdown. Justin Davis rushed for 902 yards on 169 carries with 7 touchdowns, and made 18 catches for 189 yards. Tre Madden has graduated after rushing for 452 yards on 85 carries with 5 touchdowns.
Leading receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is back after making 89 catches for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns. The other top three receivers are back for the Trojans. Adoree’ Jackson had 27 catches for 414 yards and 2 touchdowns despite only moonlighting as a receiver from his regular job as a cornerback. Steven Mitchell, Jr. had 37 catches for 335 yards and 4 touchdowns. Darreus Rogers had 28 catches for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tight end Taylor McNamara had only 12 catches but four of them went for touchdowns.
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Alabama averaged 427 yards per game on offense including 227 passing and 200 rushing yards per game. The Crimson Tide averaged 35 points a game. Alabama allowed 277 yards per game on defense including 201 passing and 76 rushing yards. Alabama allowed 15 points a game. The Crimson Tide were +10 in turnovers and forced 27 turnovers. Alabama averaged 56 penalty yards per game. The Tide were 92/238 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents were 72/247. Alabama forced 53 sacks and allowed 25 last season. The Crimson Tide were 51/62 scoring in the red zone with 35 touchdowns and opponents were 25/30 with 14 touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide will have to break in a new quarterback. Jake Coker is now with the Arizona Cardinals. He threw for over 3,100 yards with 21 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and also had 2 rushing touchdowns. Last year’s back-up Cooper Bateman was locked in a battle with redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and true freshman Jalen Hurts for the starting job. Saban will start Bateman in the first game but Hurts could be the starter in game two. Bateman threw for 291 yards with a touchdown and 2 interceptions last year. He started the loss against Ole Miss.
Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry declared early for the NFL draft and was a second round pick by the Tennessee Titans. He rushed for 2,219 yards on 395 carries with 28 touchdowns, along with 11 catches. Kenyan Drake has also graduated and was a third round pick by the Miami Dolphins. He had 77 carries for 408 yards and a touchdown, and made 29 catches with a touchdown. For the first time in Saban’s ten year career at Alabama he does not have an established running back. A pair of sophomores Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris will likely split the carries, but Scarbrough is listed on top of the depth chart. Each got a few carries last year but their weren’t a lot of carries to go around with a workhorse back like Henry.
Last year, Alabama had a ton of experience at running back but virtually none at receiver. This year is just the opposite. The top three pass catchers are back for the Crimson Tide. Calvin Ridley had 89 catches for 1,045 yards and 7 touchdowns. ArDarius Stewart had 63 catches for 700 yards and 4 touchdowns. Receiver Richard Mullaney is now with the Dallas Cowboys after making 38 catches and 5 touchdowns last year. The Crimson Tide do get back Robert Foster. The big play threat missed all but three games last year with a shoulder injury. Bowling Green transfer Gehrig Dieter could also make an impact. Tight end O.J. Howard is also back. He had 38 catches for 602 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the championship game against Clemson, he had over 200 receiving yards and 2 touchdown catches.
USC is 4-1 ATS in September, 1-5 in neutral site games and overall. Alabama is 5-2 ATS overall, 3-9 in September and 3-11-1 in non-conference games.
USC should be improved but they aren’t at the level of Alabama. The Crimson Tide lost a lot of talent but they are still the team to beat. I think the Trojans hang around for a while but Alabama pulls away to cover the spread.