Two college football powerhouses will kick off their 2016 seasons at Cowboys Stadium when No. 1 Alabama and No. 20 Southern California square off in one of the opening weekend's biggest games.
The game's biggest fan bases will clash in Arlington, Texas as the Crimson Tide take their first step towards defending their 2015 national championship against a Trojan team seven years removed from their last major bowl appearance. Elite recruits will fill every position across the field, but Alabama is a two-possession favorite even without a definite answer at quarterback. Three unproven passers vied for the starting job in a summer competition marked by struggles and turnovers.
However, Bama's eternally vigilant defense (third in the NCAA in scoring and total defense in 2015) will put the evolving Trojans to the test. USC started the Clay Helton era with a 4-1 record and a win over then-No. 3 Utah, but stumbled to a 1-3 finish against a murderer's row of opponents as winter rolled in. The Trojans will have a trio of dynamic weapons to put the Tide to the test.
All-American wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster averaged more than 100 receiving yards per game last season while scoring 10 total touchdowns. Sophomore tailback Ronald Jones II will back up a first-year campaign where he gained nearly 1,000 yards when he pairs with senior back Justin Davis to give USC a dynamic and explosive offensive attack.
Will that group be enough to lead the Trojans past the heavily favored Crimson Tide?
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Alabama started the week as a 10.5-point favorite.
Three big things to know
1. Can another first-year quarterback lead Alabama to the promised land? The Crimson Tide's passers struggled this summer as Jalen Hurts, Cooper Bateman, and Blake Barnett battled for a starting role with one of the nation's top programs. However, Nick Saban only needed Jake Coker to average 207 passing yards per game en route to a 2015 national championship, so aerial excellence is not a must-have for Bama this fall.
2. Max Browne, a first-year starter in his own right, will try to lead USC back to college football's elite. The redshirt junior was the top-ranked passer in the recruiting class of 2013, but he's only thrown 19 passes in his NCAA career. He sat behind 2016 third-round draft pick Cody Kessler before beating out freshman Sam Darnold for his chance to shine. However, Saturday's matchup against Alabama's never-ending string of elite defenders could be a rough introduction to the starting lineup.
3. Clay Helton's first season opener could set the tone for his tenure in Los Angeles. Helton ascended to Steve Sarkisian's former role in November of 2015 and led the Trojans to the Pac-12 Championship game. However, he only went 5-4 as the team's head coach and doesn't have the cache typically associated with the team's gaudy hires. Beating the Crimson Tide would add a big argument as to why USC should keep him around, but a blowout loss will only add heat to his coaching seat as an uncertain season gets started.