Everything’s bigger in Texas.
Last season, Alabama traveled to the Lone Star State twice en route to becoming the biggest and best team in college football. So it only makes sense the Crimson Tide, ranked No. 1 by both the Coaches Poll and the Associated Press, would start its season back in Arlington on Saturday.
The same can be said for the Tide’s opponent, Southern California, as the Trojans look to recapture a dynasty slowly fading away.
It’s been more than a decade since running back Reggie Bush lifted the Heisman Trophy as USC’s most recent winner, and even that’s been wiped from the record books. The Trojans’ last national championship, a 55-19 win over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl, occurred while most of their current players were in middle school.
While USC is still a name brand across college football, the Trojans aren’t necessarily the team today’s middle schoolers pretend to be during pickup games at recess.
That role belongs to Alabama, which has racked up four national titles and has seen two of its own running backs lift the Heisman Trophy since USC’s decline. Now, Alabama is college football’s “It” team.
“You kind of don’t realize it,” said Alabama senior tight end O.J. Howard. “But I think a lot of people look at us that way, especially younger kids, the way they always come up to us after the game. They kind of do look at us that way.”
It’s not just the young kids, either. Alabama has finished No. 1 in the 247Sports composite recruiting rankings the past six seasons, not only dominating the southeast region but also cherry-picking the top talent from across the nation. That includes California, where Alabama landed five-star offensive tackle Jonah Williams who will start at right tackle as a true freshman against USC.
“(Recruits) see people like Mark Ingram, talk about them, how they won national championships, so everyone wants to go there,” said USC cornerback Adoree’ Jackson of Alabama via the Los Angeles Times.
It’s not time to panic yet for USC. The Trojans ranked in the top 10 in recruiting the past three seasons, including a runner-up finish to the Tide in the 2015 class. Outside of a 13th ranked class in 2013, USC has netted a top 10 finish in every class since 2002.
“Both (USC and Alabama) are kind of the pinnacles of college football,” said USC head coach Clay Helton via the Los Angeles Times. “Both teams can recruit nationally.”
While Helton isn’t wrong, the two teams seem to be trending in opposite directions. Despite still being a national presence, USC has strayed away from the dominate powerhouse team that nailed down top 5 recruiting classes from 2003-11. The Trojans just don’t appear to have the same swagger.
“There’s definitely that sense of, you know, we’ve got to bring us back,” said USC backup quarterback Sam Darnold via the Los Angeles Times.
Saturday, under the bright lights of AT&T Stadium in a primetime matchup on ABC, the Trojans will have an opportunity to reclaim their spot as kings of the college football world. To do so, however, they’ll need to take down the team that took their place.
Expect something big.
“I have a lot of respect for USC, always have had a lot of respect for those guys,” Howard said. “Growing up seeing them play, we’re ready to see a lot of things happen in the game that you usually want to see (from USC).”