TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Kickoff for the 2016 college football season is so close we can almost taste it, and the opening weekend of the season offers plenty of juicy matchups.
In terms of name recognition, you won’t find many better than Alabama vs. USC in Cowboy Stadium on Sept. 3.
The story lines are endless, but the most intriguing one may be Lane Kiffin getting a shot at the school that fired and, in a way, publicly humiliated him.
During his media session prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship, Kiffin called it the low point of his career, so you know it’s still fresh in his mind.
In Kiffin’s first trip back to Knoxville as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, he dialed up plays to score two touchdowns in the first 6.5 minutes of the game. Would anyone be surprised if Kiffin came out bombing against the Trojans in hopes of burying his former employer early?
We’ve got a few more weeks before we get the answer to that question, but here’s a look at the game for now.
2015 record: 8-6, 6-3 Pac-12
Coach: Clay Helton, 2nd year, 6-4 overall
Returning starters: 10 offense, 6 defense
Game time: 7 p.m. CT
Matchup to watch
Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey vs USC WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
These two players should be somewhat familiar with each other dating back to their time as high-profile prospects during the 2014 recruiting cycle. According to the 247Sports composite, both were top 20 prospects with Humphrey checking in at No. 12 and Smith-Schuster slotted at No. 20.
Humphrey redshirted his first season in Tuscaloosa in order to add weight and get accustomed to the college game. Humphrey started all 15 games during Alabama’s national championship run last season. He earned freshman All-America honors from the FWAA after totaling 45 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Out on the west coast, Smith-Schuster caught 54 passes for 724 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman. But it was last season where the Long Beach, Calif. native exploded. Smith-Schuster hauled in 89 passes for 1,454 yards and 10 scores.
Both Humphrey and Smith-Schuster will arrive at Cowboy Stadium as two of the premier players at their positions going into the season.
Why Alabama will win
On paper, Alabama is the better team. That’s going to be the case in every game Alabama plays this year outside of maybe LSU.
USC dealt with a lot of turmoil last season before settling on coach Clay Helton. Helton did a standup job given the circumstances, but it’ll be tough for the new head coach to match wits with Nick Saban and staff.
Let’s be honest, USC has a better chance of beating Alabama in November than they do in this big-time season opener. Alabama just doesn’t lose these games.
In these Power Five matchups Saban likes to schedule to start the season, Alabama has won each game by at least 10 points. Saban uses these for recruiting, national exposure for the program and to have something to motivate the players during the offseason.
It’s a lot easier to get players to push for that extra rep in the weight room or to run that extra sprint during the Alabama summer heat when they knew they open up with a quality opponent like USC. Alabama 34, USC 17