No. 20 USC Football Opens 2016 Season Vs. No. 1 Alabama In Texas|
Aug. 26, 2016
*Two of college football’s traditional giants—No. 20 USC and No. 1 Alabama, the defending national champion—meet in Texas to open their 2016 seasons on Labor Day weekend in primetime on ABC.
*It’s the first meeting between the teams since 1985.
*Something has to give, as USC has won its past 17 openers and Alabama its last 14.
*Although the Crimson Tide holds a decisive edge in the series, both of USC’s victories were historic (and both came in Birmingham): the 1970 win helped integrate Southern football (one of Troy’s stars that day was African-American fullback Sam Cunningham, who will serve as the Trojans’ honorary captain this week) and the 1978 win knocked off top-ranked Alabama (although both teams ended up splitting the national title that season).
*USC’s 7 victories over No. 1 teams are among the most of any school, but the last time Troy did so was in 1984.
*It has been 10 years since USC has met a team from the Southeastern Conference (Troy has won nearly two-thirds of its games against SEC foes).
*It is USC’s third consecutive game in an NFL stadium, as well as at a neutral site (Troy is listed as the visiting team). This will be USC’s first visit to 80,000-seat AT&T Stadium, which is familiar territory for Alabama (the Tide played there twice last season)...and if the roof is closed, it will be just the fourth time a Trojan football game has occurred inside.
*Although USC played in Texas just 4 years ago, it has been 21 years since the Trojans’ came to the Dallas area. Five USC players hail from Texas, as does Trojan head coach Clay Helton, and a pair of USC assistants used to work for the Cowboys (even the state’s governor has a USC link).
*USC also has many Alabama connections, including assistant coach Neil Callaway, who played under Tide legend Bear Bryant in a mid-70s victory over the top-ranked Trojans. Eyes figure to be on former USC head coach Lane Kiffin, now Alabama’s offensive coordinator (19 current Trojans played for Kiffin).
*It’s the start of a grueling 2016 schedule for USC, featuring 11 bowl teams from 2015 and 6 teams in the AP pre-season poll (both more than anyone).
*Helton, who was named USC’s permanent head coach late last season after twice serving in an interim role, fields a 2016 squad with 14 returning starters (9 on offense) and 82 scholarship players (Troy’s deepest team since its 2010 NCAA sanctions). QB Max Browne, who has thrown just 19 passes in 9 games while waiting in the wings the past 3 seasons under Cody Kessler (Troy’s most efficient passer ever), won the starting job at the end of fall camp over redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. USC is loaded at the skill offensive spots, with a pair of 900-yard runners from 2015 (TBs Justin Davis and Texan Ronald Jones II, who set the school frosh rushing record last fall) and Biletnikoff Award nominee WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (89 receptions for 1,454 yards and 10 TDs in 2015) leading a deep receiving corps. USC’s entire offensive line is back, led by massive All-American candidate OT Zach Banner. Tee Martin, an Alabama native, takes over Helton’s playcalling duty. Triple threat Thorpe/Hornung Awards nominee CB-WR-RET Adoree’ Jackson headlines the defense (he is also an elite long jumper) and is joined by the likes of ILB Cameron Smith and CB Iman Marshall, both 2015 Freshman All-Americans. The biggest challenge for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who returned to USC this year, will be overhauling of d-line. There will be new faces in the Trojan kicking game, which should be helped by the return of special teams coordinator John Baxter.
*Nick Saban has led Alabama to 4 national championships in the past 7 years. The Crimson Tide return 14 starters from the 2015 titlists, but among the losses are a Heisman runner, a Rimington center, a school record-setting quarterback and a pair of All-American defenders. Like USC, Alabama will be breaking in a new signalcaller this year. Whoever wins the job gets to throw to the likes of WRs Calvin Ridley (89 catches, 1,045 yards, 7 TDs last fall) and ArDarius Steward (63 grabs in 2015) and TE O.J. Howard, Offensive MVP of the CFP title game. OT Cam Robinson and 2015 Freshman All-American C Ross Pierschbacher will block for the new QB and running back. The Tide’s traditionally tough defense features such seniors as LB Reuben Foster, the team’s top returning tackler, S Eddie Jackson (6 interceptions last year), DE Jonathan Allen (12 sacks in 2015) and LB Tim Williams (10.5 sacks in 2015).
*By the way, another USC football team will be playing an Alabama school on Labor Day weekend, as the Women of Troy soccer (futbol) squad plays in a tourney at Auburn.