College football’s opening weekend is, on paper, lots of fun. It’s arguably not the best ever, as some have proclaimed, but fun all the same. That should be more than enough. The question is whether Week 1 lives up to the hype. (The most college football thing ever would be that it doesn’t, because we can’t have nice things.)
Digressing, no game from Week 1 is more anticipated than Alabama and USC, and why not? Two historical powerhouses are kicking off in primetime (8 p.m. ET) at a neutral site fit for the greatest of stages (Arlington, Texas). Can USC prove it’s finally back as a college football elite or will Alabama continue its reign of dominance against anyone who dares stand in its way?
Alabama Storyline: The odds are literally in favor of the Tide for this one. Coach Nick Saban has never lost a season opener at Alabama. As impressive a statement as that is, it actually does a disservice to Saban without context. Not only has Saban never lost an opener, he’s defeated six Power Five opponents at neutral sites — all by double digits.
Making it seven requires newer faces to step up immediately. Alabama is replacing key components along a historically great defensive front seven, including Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland. However, edge rushers Jonathan Allen and Da’Shawn Hand are back, as is linebacker Reuben Foster. We also know the Tide will play Blake Barnett and/or Cooper Bateman at quarterback.
USC Storyline: If the Tide are a machine, the Trojans want to be the wrench. There’s no denying USC has the talent to compete with Alabama; the Trojans are filled to the brim with blue-chip recruits as well.
Alabama enters this season with 17 5-stars. Or, as many as the bottom 107 FBS teams combined.
— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) August 29, 2016
There are two big questions, however. One is on offense where Chuma Edoga will start at left tackle for the injured Chad Wheeler (plantar fasciitis). That means new quarterback Max Browne’s blind side will be handled by a less-experienced player going up against a formidable pass rush.
Secondly, there’s still a bit of a “show me” factor with coach Clay Helton, who is 0-2 since having his interim tag removed last season. All Helton is doing is going up against one of college football’s all-time great coaches. Those are some big obstacles for USC to overcome if it wants to prove it’s finally “back.”
Pick: USC +11.5. Betting against Saban in season openers is never a good idea, so I’m going safe and picking the Tide to win. The spread is a different story. Individually, USC matches up well — the one-on-one battle between Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley and USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson should be the best of Week 1 — but a thin D-line could wear out late against the Tide’s brutal running attack and lead to a big-play dagger.
That’s what makes the 11.5 line so interesting. It’s just high enough that I’m taking USC against the spread, but don’t be shocked if the win still feels comfortable for Alabama.
For full Week 1 picks against the spread, check out our Expert Picks page.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Alabama vs. USC line, game pick: Trojans look to show they’re back vs. the Tide