The king of college football over the last five years pitted against a program trying to establish a new reign. It’s no sure thing, but the 2014 season opener for USC could very possibly be against the most dominant program in the country in recent memory: Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.
"Somebody important at USC" apparently mentioned this possibility to Dan Patrick, who then reported it on his national radio show.
After three BCS National Championships in five year’s under head coach Nick Saban, many USC fans probably aren’t thrilled with the news that their young team’s first game under new coach Steve Sarkisian could be against the SEC powerhouse.
But I think USC should embrace this opportunity to play Alabama, and not because of the "you gotta beat the best to be the best, kid" sentiment or any other cause similar to that.
No, I think this game would provide USC with a very realistic opportunity to win, gain national recognition, and jumpstart a Trojan fanbase that is just now in the midst of its recovery from BFS, a case of Battered Fan Syndrome caused by a combination of Lane Kiffin’s play calling and Coach O’s heart-wrenching and decidedly ugly departure from the team after those eight memorable games.
But while Alabama is certainly one of the biggest names in college football, I see three reasons in particular why USC could very well beat the Tide should they meet this fall.
1. Alabama’s quarterback situation
A.J. McCarron is now a Cincinnati Bengal, which means it’s up to either Blake Sims or Jacob Coker to fill his shoes, which are about the size of three BCS National Championships. Sims and Coker, by the way, have 80 career attempts between them.
The inexperience and questions at the quarterback position (a similar situation that USC faced last season, which I will get to later) means that the Lane Kiffin-led Alabama offense will presumably rely heavily on T.J. Yeldon and the running game. This is one of the simplest scenarios to gameplan against for Justin Wilcox, USC’s new and talented defensive coordinator, who has proven effective in his previous job at the University of Washington against run-oriented offenses like Stanford and even Oregon (Alabama’s offense more closely resembles Stanford’s than Oregon’s, though).
Wilcox’s philosophy will likely be to load the box with at least eight players on the majority of plays and force Alabama to put the ball into the hands of one of their inexperienced quarterbacks. USC's talented Su’a Cravens will probably be key in implementing this strategy, as his 230+ pound build as a safety enables him to be physical against the running game while also having the ability to play deep against the pass.
While one could argue USC has the same issue of inexperience with Cody Kessler, I would argue that last year's experience has been good for him, and his performance during Spring practice supports this view. Additionally, I'd want Steve Sarkisian coaching my quarterback over Lane Kiffin every day of the week, and especially on Saturdays.
2. Lane Kiffin
Remember him? Of course you do. Well, if you think back to the first month or two of last season, you’ll remember a mishandling of the offense that almost made you feel sorry for the guy. Copious amounts of bubble screens and predictable play calls didn’t exactly make it easy on the inexperienced Cody Kessler.
And what do you know, Alabama’s also going to have themselves a rookie starter this season. Sure, Kiffin’s offense produced when he had an embarrassment of riches in guys like Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, and Nelson Agholor on the same team, but when that talent went away, so did the crazy numbers.
Alabama is talented, but after losing key offensive weapons McCarron and receiver Kevin Norwood to the NFL, they definitely have some holes to fill. I’m not sure Kiffin is the right repairman for the job.
3. NFL draft
I mentioned McCarron and Norwood, but after losing offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and defensive linemen Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan to the NFL, that’s a ton of key pieces lost to the big leagues. Saban and Alabama are fantastic at recruiting, so I don’t doubt that they have talented players lined up as replacements, but it will probably take time as the new starters become adjusted to their new roles. One could argue that USC can point to the same issue, as key players such as Lee, George Uko, and Dion Bailey, among others, have also moved on to the NFL, but in the end I see Alabama’s losses as greater than USC’s.
These three areas are why I believe USC can very realistically beat Alabama this coming fall. Alabama might be headed for a bit of a transitional year, but USC emerging victorious from a battle with such a prestigious football program would surely put Sarkisian in the good favor of the USC fanbase early on.
So don’t be scared of Alabama. USC is fully capable of stagnating the roll of the Crimson Tide. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to see it.