Fewer than four months remain until Alabama opens its season vs. Southern California in Arlington, Texas.
Nick Saban has made sure to schedule tough opponents in early September since he arrived on campus, and USC — last year’s Pac-12 South champion — is the latest on a list that includes Michigan, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
“We always have tried to play a good opponent at a neutral-site game for the last eight or nine years,” Saban said during a Thursday teleconference. “That’s benefitted us, and I think it benefits our team in the offseason in terms of their development.”
There’s obvious risk involved.
Two-loss teams rarely wind up playing for national titles, meaning a season-opening stumble forces championship squads to be perfect down the stretch.
It’s a scenario that Alabama has not faced — Saban’s teams are 9-0 in openers — but early-season losses to Ole Miss in back-to-back years have given the Crimson Tide consecutive early scares.
“If you can have success in that game, it sort of benefits your opportunity,” Saban said. “But also, when you play a good opponent and you don’t have success, it can really put you in a tough situation.”
USC finished last season 8-6 with a close loss to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl.
The Trojans are unsettled at quarterback, but will bring back top rusher Ronald Jones (987 yards and eight touchdowns), while returning several key players on a defense that ranked fourth in Pac-12 scoring defense (25.7 points allowed per game).
“We like it because they are a quality opponent,” Saban said. “They do have a lot of good players. They’re well-coached, and it gives our players something to really work hard (for) in the offseason and fall camp, to get ready for a big first game.”