USC Trojans vs. Alabama Crimson Tide, Saturday Sept. 3, 8 p.m. ET
Something has to give here. The Tide have won their last 14 opening games since losing to UCLA in 2001, and several have been against high-profile opponents. USC lost to Florida State to open their 1997 season, and they haven't taken a misstep since. That's 18 straight season-opening wins. Two impressive streaks on the line, and only one can continue.
This is the seventh time that AT&T Stadium, the gigantic home of the Dallas Cowboys, has hosted a season-opening college football game. Alabama has played in the game once before, crushing Michigan 41-14 in 2012 in front of the largest crowd the series has seen. USC has not played in the stadium and hasn't made a practice of travelling to Texas regularly in the past. They last played in the state in 1996, beating Houston 26-9 but failing to cover the 20-point spread.
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USC at Alabama Betting Storylines
There is a lot on the line here, but no one will be more fired up for the game more than Lane Kiffin. The Alabama offensive coordinator was famously pulled off a bus at the airport to be fired as head coach at USC. It was surely humiliating, and this is his first chance for revenge - these teams haven't met since 1985. Kiffin has done a surprisingly solid job as offensive coordinator at Bama, but his task is more challenging here than he would ideally like. He's breaking in a new QB, and he lacks both a clear leader in the race and the candidates have minimal experience. Kiffin has a few things going for him, though - tremendous talent around the starter, a system that hasn't relied nearly as heavily on strong QB play as other teams do, and a new starter on the other side of the field as well.
For USC that new starter is Max Browne, the top QB recruit in the Class of 2013. He has been unable to beat out Cody Kessler for the starting job the last three years, but he finally now gets his chance with Kessler in the NFL. Like with Alabama, Browne is blessed with a strong running game, an excellent group of receivers and a good offensive line. His ability to shine, though, has to be questioned - it's not like Kessler was the best QB in college football, so Browne's inability to surpass him raises questions.
The difference between the two new quarterbacks is the defense they will be facing. Long-time defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has left Alabama to be the head coach at Georgia, but it would be a mistake to think the team will suffer in his absence. The defense is lightning fast and perhaps even more dangerous than the one that won a national title last year. USC has real talent, too, but more questions, and new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is hopelessly outmatched here. It is far easier to imagine Alabama scoring points than USC.
USC at Alabama Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Alabama favored by nine points. That has since jumped to 11.5. More than 70 percent of bets have been on the Tide, so the line movement is consistent with expectations. It wouldn't be surprising to see it move a point or so more, though that isn't guaranteed without a major development for one team or the other. The total has been much less volatile, showing stability at 54.
Alabama is 5-2 ATS in their last seven games but a dismal 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games played in September. They are just 3-11-1 ATS in their last 15 nonconference games. USC is just 1-5 ATS in both their last six games and their last six neutral-site games, but they are 4-1 ATS In their last five in September. The "over" has gone 16-4-1 in Alabama's last 21 neutral-site games and 8-3-1 in USC's last 12 on a neutral field.
USC at Alabama Predictions and Picks
This is a tough game to call. I don't mean that it is tough to pick a winner - you would have to be a serious, and seriously deluded, Trojans fan to convince yourself into thinking that Alabama doesn't have the obvious edge. The spread is tough, though. That is a lot to give up, especially to a team with superstar caliber guys like Adoree Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. USC has issues up front on defense that the Tide will exploit badly with their running game, but that's not going to let the score get out of hand, and the USC secondary is strong. It's hard to take a stand on this number. What is easier, though, is the total. Two quarterbacks trying to find their way on a massive stage against tough defenses - sounds like a recipe for an under to me.
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