ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – Top-ranked Alabama has never lost an opener under Nick Saban. And the Crimson Tide’s last two national championships, including a season ago, started at the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
Maybe Crimson Tide fans should go ahead and make plans for Tampa in January for the next College Football Playoff title game. Many of them probably already have even before the start of Saban’s 10th season.
Alabama opens Saturday night at AT&T Stadium against 20th-ranked Southern California, which is facing an SEC team for the first time in 10 years.
It is the seventh of Saban’s openers to be played in a neutral site against team from another Power Five conference — the Tide have won all of those first six at least double figures. That includes beating Michigan in 2012 and Wisconsin last September in the stadium where they also won the CFP semifinal in the Cotton Bowl last New Year’s Eve.
“Well, I’d rather play here in Tuscaloosa,” Saban said this week on campus. “The issue is getting people to play you in Tuscaloosa that are quality opponents, and then when you do home-and-home. That means next year we’d have to play in California. So next year we wouldn’t make any money, this year we would. This is a business decision but it’s also a program decision in the tremendous amount of exposure, when you play a quality opponent like USC.”
The Tide have won four national titles under Saban. The first was in 2008, when the Trojans won their last Pac-12 title.
USC has seven wins in its history against No. 1 teams, but the last was in 1984.
“What an unbelievable opportunity. You look at the sacrifices this team made, the things it’s gone through to get here, and you can’t help being excited about it,” said Clay Helton, who goes into his first game of his first season as the Trojans’ permanent coach. “That’s why you come to SC. If you don’t like the challenge, you don’t take the job.”
Some other things to know when Alabama and USC go head-to-head for the first time since 1985:
NEW QBS: USC’s Max Browne has won the job to replace Cody Kessler but has attempted only 19 passes in nine games. Alabama’s starter is a mystery, either junior Cooper Bateman or redshirt freshman Blake Barnett. If Saban has picked a guy, he isn’t saying — just like the past two years when Blake Sims and then Jake Coker claimed the jobs through game performances.
KIFFIN’S OLD TEAM: Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is plenty familiar with the Trojans, having coached 19 members of the USC team. He’s a former USC head coach and assistant. “It won’t be about me, just like it wasn’t about me when we were at Tennessee,” Kiffin said early in preseason camp. “It’s not about coach when we go to LSU. It’s about our players playing really well. All we can do is put our players in the best position to win.”
NEW BUT FAMILIAR: New Trojans head coach Clay Helton has been on their staff since 2010. There is also a new offensive coordinator (Tee Martin) and new defensive coordinator (Clancy Pendergast), and like Helton, neither are strangers at USC. Martin has been on staff there since 2012, and Pendergast was previously the Trojans’ defensive coordinator in 2013, before returning to the NFL the past two seasons.
PROLIFIC RECEIVERS: If the quarterbacks are unproven, their top targets are pretty obvious. USC’s Browne has JuJu Smith-Schuster, who flirted with 1,500 receiving yards and has impressed Saban all the way around. “A bigtime guy,” the coach said. “Kind of a Dez Bryant-type of receiver, and he’s certainly going to be a challenge for us to guard.” Alabama counters with Calvin Ridley, who emerged as one of the SEC’s best as a freshman. Ridley is also taking over returning punts.
OPENING STREAKS: The Crimson Tide’s streak of season-opening wins is even longer than Saban’s tenure. They have won their last 14 openers overall, which is three fewer than USC’s streak of 17 consecutive seasons with a win in the first game.
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