Game to be played at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Defending national champion Alabama hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback, but the lack of an incumbent at the pivotal position hasn’t stopped the Crimson Tide from drawing the nation’s No. 1 ranking as they enter Saturday’s opener against No. 17 USC at Arlington, Texas. Alabama coach Nick Saban said that junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett are his squad’s top two quarterbacks, while the Trojans previously settled on junior Max Browne to replace three-year starter Cody Kessler.
The Crimson Tide have won 14 consecutive season openers — USC has an even longer streak at 17 — and are looking to win their fifth national crown in the past eight seasons. The uncertainty at quarterback isn’t a concern to Saban, who eliminated freshman Jalen Hurts from the derby earlier this week and said he has the big picture in mind. “We want to play the guy that’s the most ready to give us the best chance,” Saban said at Monday’s press conference. “We also want to continue to develop guys that can compete at this position in the future. That’s kind of where it is right now. There’s really nothing else to talk about.” Browne has thrown 19 career passes for USC, which is beginning its first full season under coach Clay Helton.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Alabama -11.5.
LINE HISTORY: The defending champs opened this game as double digit favorites (-10), but that number did not last long with bettors jumping on Alabama. The number quickly moved to Alabama -10.5, then right to -11.5 and has since settled at -12.
As for the total, bettors are thinking Alabama’s renowned defense will have the advantage in an early season matchup. The number opened at 54 and has been steadily bet down to the current number of 52.5. Check out the complete line history here.
USC – S M. Tell III (probable Saturday, hamstring), CB J. Plattenburg (questionable Saturday, concussion), T C. Wheeler (out Saturday, foot), DE O. Masina (out Satuday, suspension), CB I. Langley (out Saturday, suspension).
Alabama – LB R. Evans (probable Saturday, undisclosed), DL R. Davis (questionable Saturday, eligibility), OL A. Taylor (out Saturday, suspension), DB T. Brown (out Satuday, suspension).
WEATHER REPORT: Indoors.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “Alabama is one of the few teams that just reloads each year, instead of rebuilding. They return just 5 defensive starters for the third time in the past five seasons, but it will not matter as they still have plenty of NFL caliber players and have routinely allowed less than two touchdowns per game every recent season. Alabama will be tested by a veteran USC offense that returns all their key players from last year, except QB Kessler.”
“Alabama returns 6 starters on offense, but they are unproven at QB and RB. They do benefit from facing an unproven USC defense that returns only 5 starters from a unit that has struggled the past two years, allowing 25.7 points and 401 yards per game last season, and 25.2 points and 408 yards per game the year before.” – Covers Expert Steve Merril.
ABOUT USC (2015: 8-6): The Trojans feature one of the nation’s top receivers in junior JuJu Smith-Schuster — who caught 89 passes for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns last season — and that should help Browne gain his footing as a starter. Sophomore Ronald Jones II set a school freshman rushing record with 987 yards — surpassing school legend Charles White (1976) — in his first college season and will share the workload with senior Justin Davis (902 yards in 2015) behind a solid offensive line led by senior right tackle Zach Banner. Junior cornerback Adoree’ Jackson – who also returned two punts for scores and caught 27 passes on offense in 2015 – is the big name on the defense but sophomore inside linebacker Cameron Smith (78 tackles, three interceptions) and sophomore cornerback Iman Marshall (three interceptions) are emerging stars.
ABOUT ALABAMA (2015: 14-1): Bateman threw 52 passes and started one game last season when now-departed Jake Coker was helping the Crimson Tide win the national crown. Replacing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is another chore – sophomores Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris will share carries against USC — but the Crimson Tide remain well-stocked at receiver with sophomore Calvin Ridley (SEC-freshman record 89 receptions for 1,045 yards in 2015) and junior ArDarius Stewart (63 catches) leading the way. Alabama is reloading on defense but returns a quartet of senior standouts in strong safety Eddie Jackson (six interceptions for 230 yards and two touchdowns), defensive end Jonathan Allen (12 sacks), and linebackers Reuben Foster (73 tackles) and Tim Williams (10.5 sacks).
* USC went 1-5 ATS in their final 6 games at the end of last season.
* Alabama is 3-11-1 ATS in its last 15 non-conference games.
* Over is 8-3-1 in USC’s last 12 neutral site games.
* Over is 16-4-1 in Alabama’s last 21 neutral site games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Bettors are taking the points with Alabama, with 65 percent of wagers backing the defending champs. As for the total, bettors are almost split down the middle, with 51 percent of wagers on the Under.