(20) USC vs

(1) Alabama

at Arlington, TX
Sat, Sep 3
5:00 PM Pacific
Rotation: 202
Odds: Alabama -12, Total: 52.5

Game Analysis

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Alabama (-12)  33   Southern Cal  19

Alabama enters this season as my top rated team, as the Crimson Tide will replace the players they lost to the NFL with more NFL caliber talent. Last season’s team was actually their worst team on a compensated yards per play basis since 2008, as the Bama offense was about 0.8 yards per play worse than normal standards. Jake Coker did a fine job of avoiding turnovers (only 8 interceptions in 15 games) but he wasn’t nearly as efficient as predecessors Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron. Coker is gone and there will be another first year starter under center to start this season – either Cooper Bateman or redshirt frosh Blake Barnett, who reportedly has more upside. Last season the offense had to adjust to life without Amare Cooper, who was targeted 3 times as much as any other receiver in 2014. This season the Tide have their top 3 receivers back and I expect O.J. Howard to build on his post season success from the tight end position (8 catches and 267 yards in 2 playoff games). The pass attack should be better with more experience at the receiver positions and replacing Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is actually not going to be that challenging given the fact that he averaged a fairly mediocre 5.6 yards per run (the national average is 5.1 yards per running play). Last year’s rushing attack was actually the lowest rated at Alabama since 2008 (based on compensated yards per rushing play) and Nick Saban stockpiles talented running backs. I’ll rate the Bama rushing attack about the same as the last two seasons but it wouldn’t surprise me if Alabama is improved in that facet of the offense now that the overrated Henry has moved on. Overall, I see improvement from the Bama offense this season.

Most people think it will be tough for the Tide to match last year’s defensive numbers, which were 0.5 yards per play better than in 2013 and 2014. However, the secondary returns 3 of 4 starters and the front seven is loaded with talent and depth, as usual. Alabama’s defense rating last season of 1.7 yards per play better than average (4.4 yppl allowed to teams that would combine to average 6.1 yppl against an average defensive team) was actually only 0.1 yppl better than their average rating over the last 8 years. I have no reason to expect that this year’s defense will much different than the average of the last 8 years and I rate that unit only slightly worse than last year’s dominating group.

USC is coming off a tumultuous 8-6 season in which their head coach was fired after 5 games due to misconduct. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton took over and Trojans went 5-4 over their last 9 games and was hired full time. That record doesn’t sound good but the Trojans’ losses were at Notre Dame, at Oregon, against Stanford in the Pac 12 Championship, and by just 2 points to Wisconsin. The Trojans were a good team last year and they’ll be considerably better this season.

USC’s offense loses 3 year starting quarterback Cody Kessler but the rest of the Trojans’ offensive starters are back and new quarterback Max Browne was the top recruit at the position in his class a few years ago. Browne has an experienced and talented corps of receivers to work with (Juju Smith-Schuster was a 2nd Team All-American last season) along with last year’s top two running backs and 5 returning starters on the offensive line – although star left tackle Chad Wheeler is likely to miss this game with a foot injury. The USC pass attack was 0.3 yards per pass play worse last season than it was in 2014 and 2013 and I expect a climb back up to at least those levels this season while the rushing attack is also likely to improve. I rate the Trojans’ attack as 18th best in the nation but they’re at a disadvantage in this game against my #1 rated defense, and not having Wheeler protecting Browne’s blind side against a ferocious pass rush could be an issue.

The Trojans’ defense slipped a bit last season, going from an average rating of 0.5 yards per play better than average in recent years to only 0.3 yppl better than average last season. The front 7 is green (only 1 returning starter), although there is plenty of highly rated talent filling those spots, but the secondary returns intact and should show significant improvement this season after being just 0.1 yards per pass play better than average in 2015 (6.7 yppp allowed to quarterbacks that would combine to average 6.8 yppp against an average team). I expect Alabama to move the ball at a better than average clip but it’s possible that USC’ young front 7 plays better than I expect and forces Alabama to test that experienced and talented Trojans’ defensive backfield.

Overall, my ratings favor Alabama by 13 ½ points but I think USC has some upside potential and a close game certainly wouldn’t surprise me. However, Nick Saban tends to have his team in mid-season form at the start of each year and Alabama is 19-4 ATS in the first 5 games of the season when they’re not favored by more than 25 points. Bama is actually 13-0 ATS in the first 5 games of the season when favored from 9 to 25 points and I’d rather not buck that trend. I’ll lean with Alabama but I am not putting my money on this game.

  • Team Stats
  • Game Log
  • USC
  • Alabama


  • Run Plays 31.6 38.2
  • Run Yards 149.0 170.6
  • YPRP 5.0 4.8


  • Pass Comp 22.2 17.0
  • Pass Att 34.0 28.4
  • Comp % 65.3% 59.9%
  • Pass Yards 245.8 205.4
  • Sacks 1.4 1.6
  • Sack Yards 8.2 12.6
  • Sack % 4.0% 5.3%
  • Pass Plays 35.4 30.0
  • Net Pass Yards 237.6 192.8
  • YPPP 6.7 6.4


  • Total Plays 67.0 68.2
  • Total Yards 394.8 376.0
  • YPPL 5.9 5.5


  • Int 0.6 0.8
  • Int % 1.8% 2.8%
  • Fumbles 0.6 0.4
  • Turnovers 1.2 1.2
  • Points 25.8 27.4
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