Game of the Week - Week 1 - Alabama vs USC

5 Star City

My first question was simple: how do the starting lineups really compare? Going by the 247 composite, the respective star ratings are as follows:

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
USC Offense 2 8 1
USC Defense 3 6 2
Alabama Offense 6 4 1
Alabama Offense 6 4 1

For many who are expecting to see a USC team “just as talented as Alabama,” this is a disappointment. Simply put, USC’s team, while very talented, is -not- on the same level as Alabama, just like virtually everyone else. Something could be said for the fact that stars aren’t everything, but USC was a 6-loss team in 2015, so it isn’t like they are outplaying their rankings.

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars
UGA Offense 2 7 2
UGA Defense 2 6 3

My impression, after having watched most of their major games from 2015, is that USC is not as good as the sum of its parts. Their offensive line, though highly thought of by many, was 109th in sacks allowed with 38. That was despite having a senior quarterback in Kessler, who was very adept at finding the open man and delivering the football. I think Kessler was likely far more gifted than Coker, and his loss may be a huge blow to the offense.

My most controversial opinion will undoubtedly involve the USC receiver corps. I simply am not in love with Juju Smith. Is he a good receiver? Absolutely. A great one? I haven’t seen it. He has good top-end speed, runs sharp routes, and can use his 220-pound frame to bully the smaller corners prevalent in the PAC-12. However, he is not quick, he’s not explosive, and he won’t wow you with his catch radius. Watching their games, I was downright shocked at Smith’s inability to take a screen or a hitch and make a man miss. Further, he isn’t a dominant receiver in a jump ball situation. It’s hard to peg him down, but I think he probably compares favorably to a healthy Deandrew White. A good downfield target, but not the smooth, impact player I was expecting. The other receivers, Rogers and Mitchell, possess prototype builds but similarly lack explosion. In fact, I was more impressed by their catch radius than Smith’s, but they simply struggle to gain separation in their routes. I’m going way out on a limb in this one, but I expect Alabama’s pass defense to largely dominate the USC receivers (assuming Alabama’s third corner isn’t a liability).

My most controversial opinion will undoubtedly involve the USC receiver corps. I simply am not in love with Juju Smith.

My main concern for Alabama is in the run game. USC has a powerful, if inconsistent, line. They also have two very gifted backs in Jones and Davis. For USC to win this game, I think they are going to have to get push at the line and force Alabama to bring a safety down to stop the run. If Alabama is allowed to keep two safeties back defensively (preventing Smith from using his deep speed), I just don’t think they will make any real headway in the short passing game.

Defensively, USC again features a pair of corners who aren’t what they appear. Marshall is the real deal, and will be a good one. Jackson… is overrated. He uses very poor technique, and has major difficulties spotting the ball. In fact, I like him far more as a receiver than a corner. I might think he would have improved, but he spent almost the entire offseason trying out for the Olympics. I fully expect him to be burned badly at some point in this ballgame.

The other issue is that USC is absolutely gutted in the front 7. Last year USC could effectively pressure opposing offenses and featured 7 players that with at least 5 tackles for loss (TFL). 6 of the 7, and the top 5, are all gone. The entire DL returns, collectively, only 1 TFL. The one godsend is that they managed to get a transfer from Utah in Tu'ikolovatu, but he was still only 8th for Utah with 6 TFL. Simply put, it’s a total question mark regarding how USC will generate any kind of pass rush. Further, Su’a Cravens meant a tremendous amount to their defense, and losing him robs them of tremendous versatility. For whatever concerns I have regarding how Alabama will deal with USC’s offensive line, there is very little reason to think that USC will be able to hang with Alabama at the line of scrimmage in this game.

My prediction - Alabama 31 USC 10