The hunch: USC shocks Alabama

I admit up front I might need my head examined.

I also acknowledge that I have a bias against the SEC. Oh, I don’t think the conference sucks, but I do think it’s a good-ol’ boy network that protected itself in the polls at the expense of the rest of the nation. Memo to hillbilly sportswriters typing without opposable thumbs: The SEC is the greatest because it’s the SEC is not an argument.

But I digress…

This season kickoff between two powerhouse football programs in Dallas smells bad for the defending national champions. The more I think about it, I believe No. 24 USC will beat the third-ranked Crimson Tide.

If I’m wrong, so be it. At the start of the season, there is more guesswork involved because you’re bringing in new players that are unknowns on the bigger stage. 

Speaking of new players, many of them play for Alabama — including quarterback, running back and on defense, four of the Tide’s front seven. Quarterback is a curious situation for coach Nick Saban. Even today, he claims he hasn’t decided between junior Cooper Bateman and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett.

I don’t buy that. Assume Saban is fibbing to his adoring simpletons in the SEC press corps and has a starter, though. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has a history of conservative playcalling at the start of the season. If you’re a USC fan, you know this well. Kiffin called so many bubble screens when he coached the Trojans even an idiot like me could see them coming.

The Trojans, meanwhile, are returning 10 starters on offense. Granted, replacing a quarterback is a tall order, but junior Max Browne is surrounded with nothing but veterans who are unlikely to be easily rattled. 

And USC returns six defensive starters, to boot. The Trojans weakness there is on defensive line.

So this is what I see happening: two teams protecting inexperienced quarterbacks by running first against an opponent’s unproven defensive front. That should keep the score down at first, giving USC a shot.

In that scenario, can you envision the Trojans experienced line protecting Browne enough to hit Juju Smith-Schuster or other returning receivers? Or Kiffin’s repetitive bubble screens working all night?

If anything, USC returns all four of its starting defensive backs. They know that screen is coming often. I think they adjust.

I think they can shut Lane Kiffin the hell up the same way Tampa Bay knew what the Oakland Raiders were running in Super Bowl in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Of course, if I’m wrong, screw it.

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