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O/NSO: Alabama edition

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com columnist

The Obvious: On Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, the No. 20 USC Trojans (8-6 in 2015) will face the defending national champion and No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (14-1 in 2015) in the AdvoCare Classic (7 p.m. CT/5 p.m. PT), which will be played in AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Not So Obvious: With the fan base of both storied program in Dallas, a national primetime television exposure, both universities bands performing, and high ticket prices, Saturday night’s game between the legendary Trojans and Crimson Tide has all the trappings of a major bowl game in September.  However, there is the reality of a current great divide between the two historical powerhouses in that the Trojans are still shaking off the final cobwebs from crippling NCAA sanctions and numerous head coaching changes while since 2007 the Crimson Tide, under legendary head coach Nick Saban, has won four national championships and eight straight Top 10 AP finishes.

The Obvious: Alabama opened a 10 1/2-point favorite to defeat the Trojans.

The Not So Obvious: It’s not often the Trojans are double-digit underdogs. Historically, the two teams have met seven times with Alabama leading the series 5-2-0. The most recent clash between the two universities was 1985 when the Crimson Tide defeated the Trojans 24-3 in the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii. Keep in mind, however, the Trojans seven victories over No. 1 teams are among the most of any school, but the last time Troy did so was in 1984 (Washington). For Trojan fans looking for a glimmer of hope, Alabama coach Nick Saban is just 4-4 against Pac-12 teams in his collegiate head coaching career.

The Obvious: The Trojans/Alabama game will be nationally televised live on ABC (5:00 p.m. PT/8:00 p.m. ET).

The Not So Obvious: The broadcasters for Saturday night’s kickoff will be Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analysis), and Samantha Ponder(sidelines).

The Obvious: Saturday’s Trojans radio broadcast of the USC/Alabama game will air live on ESPNLA 710 AM at 7:00 p.m. PT with Pete Arbogast (play by play), John Jackson (analyst) and Jordan Moore (sideline).

The Trojans four-hour ESPNLA 710 pregame (1 a.m. PT) and two-hour post-game show on Saturday will feature Arbogast, Jackson, Moore, Shaun Cody, Chris Fisher, Travis Rodgers, and WeAreSC contributor Jeremy Hogue.

The Not So Obvious: The Alabama broadcast can be heard on flagship station WJOX 94.5 with Eli Gold (play-by-play), Phil Savage (analyst), and Chris Stewart (sideline).

A national broadcast on ESPN radio can be heard on ESPN radio with Bill Rosinski (play-by-play), David Norrie (analyst), and Ian Fitzsimmons.The game is also being broadcast on Sirius XM satellite radio (Channel 84).

The Obvious: The weather in Arlington on Saturday calls for sunny with a high of 89 and 54 percent humidity and a low of 71 degrees, that weather figures to negated by AT&T’s retractable roof and 72-degrees indoor air conditioning.

The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether the Trojans are ready for the biggest of spotlights and so early in the season. This opener won’t be for wimps or marshmallow hearts. We may find out in the first 3 series on both sides of the ball if the Trojans can physically play with the Crimson Tide. No doubt, this will be one of the toughest openers in years for the Men of Troy, and we’ll find out whether they can sustain it for four quarters.

Offensively, the Trojans will open with a new and inexperienced offensive coordinator in Tee Martin and a new and inexperienced quarterback in junior Max Browne, a former National High School Player of the Year. Whether these two can keep what many feel is the nation’s No. 1 defense off balance remains to be seen. The Trojans offensive line, led by senior All-Pac-12 right tackle Zach Banner, has received high praise by some as the nation’s top offensive line. Whether that’s true will be realized when the experienced Trojans linemen go against Alabama’s front seven, which is loaded with future high NFL draftees.

Defensively, all eyes will focus on Trojans returning defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and whether his attacking style of defense thwarts Alabama or is carved up by the Crimson Tide. It figures the Crimson Tide will attempt to attack the Trojans on the ground unmercifully, especially with the Trojans new and questionable group of relatively inexperienced linemen. Alabama, which will be starting at quarterback either a somewhat experienced junior Cooper Bateman or redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, believes the strength of its offense is their wide receivers. For the Trojans, we’ll find out whether standout corners like junior All-Pac-12 corner Adoree’ Jackson and talented sophomore Iman “Biggie” Marshall can limit damage by Alabama’s all-star sophomore receiver Calvin Ridley and tight end O.J. Howard, star of last season’s College Football Playoff Championship Game. We’ll see whether Alabama offensive coordinator and former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin will attack Trojans safeties Chris Hawkins and Marvell Tell.  

The bottom line to the game is whether Alabama is too talented, too well coached, and too physical for the Trojans. If Troy can hang in there through three quarters, they have a shot. Can the Trojans pull off an upset victory? If they do, we’ll see whether Alabama fans commit mass suicide inside Texas Stadium while Trojans fans chant, “We Are…SC.”

The Obvious: At least at practice, the Trojans say they have no fear of No. 1 Alabama and believe that The Crimson Tide may be in for a shock.

The Not So Obvious: Starting senior tailback Justin Davis said, “I know they’re probably walking around thinking they’re tough and we’re going to rollover. I just can’t wait and it’s hard to sleep already because what we’re building right now, the whole physicality part, run straight at you, I just can’t wait to unleash it on Alabama. I don’t think they know what’s coming. I can’t wait to show it on the field.”

The Obvious: Zach Banner, Max Browne, Adoree’ Jackson, and Michael Hutchings were named USC team captains this week while former Alabama running back Johnny “The Italian Stallion” Musso and former Trojans running back legend Sam “Bam” Cunningham have been named as honorary captains for the AdvoCare Classic.

The Not So Obvious: Johnny Musso rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns to lead Alabama to a 17-10 victory over the Trojans in Los Angeles in 1971. In 1970, Sam Cunningham rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns as the Trojans defeated Alabama, 42-21, at Legion Field.

The Obvious: To win the game, the Trojans will need a super effort by their offensive line to neutralize Alabama.

The Not So Obvious: Regarding the Tide’s defensive front, junior starting center Toa Lobendahn said, “They’re big, very skilled, a tough defense. They’re not just out there doing whatever they want. They do a lot of stuff you wouldn’t expect. They just rush straight up because their defensive line is so good. They do, however, mix things up just to confuse offenses. We have to pay attention to our reads and pre-play stuff. We need to stick to the roles of that play and we’ll be good.”

The Obvious: The Trojans first-year head coach is Clay Helton is the son of a father, Kim, who was a former college and NFL football coach and occasionally attends USC practices.

The Not So Obvious: Alabama 10-year head coach Nick Saban is the son of a father, Nick Sr., that owned a service station and Dairy Queen and was the founder of Pop Warner football in the community who was so devoted to his program that he bought a school bus himself to transport the team.

The Obvious: The AdvoCare Classic between USC and Alabama is being played at AT&T Stadium, a neutral site in Arlington, Texas.

The Not So Obvious: It sounds like a neutral site, but Alabama has played in AT&T Stadium three previous times and is 3-0. Despite AT&T Stadium being a neutral site, Alabama has been assigned home team status and will wear their home uniforms while the Trojans will don their newly enhanced visiting uniforms.

The Obvious: The full Trojans Marching Band will be at AT&T Stadium along with the Alabama Marching Band.

The Not So Obvious: The entire 325-member Trojan Marching Band (TMB) will be ready to go and so will Dr. Arthur C. Bartner, who enters his 47th season as director. The game will mark the beginning of the 30th season the band has attended every Trojans football game, home or away, a streak that will reach 375 consecutive games by the end of the regular season.

The Obvious: USC is located in Los Angeles and the school has an enrollment of 43,000 (19,000 undergraduates) students.

The Not So Obvious: Alabama is located in Tuscaloosa and has an enrollment of 37,100.

The Obvious: The 2015 Trojans offense averaged 33.9 points per game while the Alabama defense allowed 15.1 points per outing.

The Not So Obvious: The 2015 Alabama offense averaged 35.1points per game while the Trojans defense allowed 25.7points per game.

The Obvious: The Trojans quarterback is graduate student Max Brown (6-5, 220), who hails from Sammamish, Washington, who will be starting his first game, although he has seen some limited snaps over his career.

The Not So Obvious: Browne has beginner’s stats (19 passes in 9 games) from the previous season when he backed up Cody Kessler, now with the Cleveland Browns.

The Obvious: USC’s nickname originated in 1912 and was originally known as the Methodists or Wesleyans, but according to the official media guide, they became the Trojans after Los Angeles Times sports editor Owen Bird coined the phrase “Trojans,” recalling how hard the team played.

The Not So Obvious: Alabama got its nickname, the Crimson Tide, from Hugh Roberts, a former sports editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald. He used “Crimson Tide” in describing an Alabama-Auburn game played in Birmingham in 1907, the last football contest between the two schools until 1948 when the series was resumed. The game was played in a sea of mud and Auburn was a heavy favorite to win. But, evidently, the “Thin Red Line” played a great game in the red mud and held Auburn to a 6-6 tie, thus gaining the name “Crimson Tide.” Zipp Newman, former sports editor of the Birmingham News, probably popularized the name more than any other writer.

The Obvious: Saturday night’s game is being played in the state of Texas.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans have five players on their roster from Texas including TBs Ronald Jones ll (McKinney North HS) and Aca’Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill HS), S John Plattenburg (Houston Lamar HG), QB Thomas Fitts (Dallas Episcopal School), and Chris Edmondson (Schetz Clemens HS),

The Obvious: The Trojans have one player, Velus Jones Jr. (Saraland HS), on its roster from the state of Alabama.

The Not So Obvious: Alabama has four players from California. They include QB Blake Barnett (Corona Santiago), SN Cole Mazza (Bakersfield Liberty), OL Jonah Williams (Folsom), and TE Cam Stewart (San Jose Valley Christian).

The Obvious: Former Trojans assistant and head football coach Lane Kiffin is in his third season as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

The Not So Obvious: Trojans first-year offensive line coach Neil Callaway played both the line and linebacker for Alabama (1974-77) under legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and was the Crimson Tide’s offensive line coach 1997-2000.

The Obvious: The Trojans under former head coach Steve Sarkisian once tried to pursue former Washington assistant Tosh Lupoi to the USC staff.

The Not So Obvious: At the time, Lupoi was under scrutiny for potential NCAA violations, but resurfaced as Alabama’s co-defensive coordinator/outside linebacker coach. California prep fans remember Lupoi has an excellent lineman at Concord De La Salle High.

The Obvious: And finally, in its history, thus far only one Trojan letterman has hailed from Alabama.

The Not So Obvious: Who is it? Well, have you already forgotten the likes of center George Dye, who played for the Trojans in1929 and hails from Birmingham, Alabama? Of course, now you remember.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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