GAMEDAY: A look back at the Crimson Tide and USC

When it comes down to NFL running backs, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen would pick Derrick Henry over Reggie Bush and Kenyan Drake over Lendale White.

But that’s because the Alabama senior is loyal to his former Crimson Tide teammates. He still has an immense amount of respect for Bush and White, who used to play for the team Allen will face during Saturday’s season opener — the USC Trojans.

“It’s one of those things that is cool to think about when we take a step back and look at it,” Allen said. “We all grew up watching USC and Alabama, so to play against them is a true honor.”

Henry and Drake are NFL newcomers, after being drafted back in April by the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins, respectively, while their counterparts are not. Bush left for the big leagues after his junior season with the Trojans in 2005; he now plays for the Buffalo Bills. White made his collegiate departure the same year as Bush, but retired from football after four seasons with the Titans.

Both USC alumni set the standard among the Trojans, one that has not changed as the team returns its top two running backs from last season: senior Justin Davis and sophomore Ronald Jones II.

“Quickness and agility, downhill runners,” Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster said. “Small, but strong. Hard.”

Jones II, who is now 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, rushed for 987 yards on 153 carries last season. Davis, who will start for the Trojans and is now 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, finished with 902 yards on 169 carries.

The consensus among the Crimson Tide is it’s about to play a one-of-a-kind team.

“We’re excited for game week,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I know our players are excited as well to have the opportunity to play a great program with a great tradition like the University of Southern California.”

One didn’t have to be a fan to respect what the Trojans were capable of either.

O.J. Howard wasn’t one to sport USC cardinal and gold, but that didn’t taint his judgment. He saw what unfolded every weekend that team suited up. He too watched Bush dominate defenses, and he paid attention to former USC quarterback Matt Leinart and what he was able to do on the field. Like his teammates, Leinart advanced to the NFL and retired after his 2012 season with the Oakland Raiders.

“I have a lot of respect for USC, always have had a lot of respect for those guys,” the senior tight end 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].”

This difference now, however, is these Alabama athletes are no longer kids looking up to college athletes. The roles are reversed. They are the stars, being a part of a program with 16 national championship titles will do that, and they are now the ones placed on a pedestal.

That’s not something to be taken lightly, and more than one Crimson Tide player deemed it as a real honor.

“That’s why we try to uphold ourselves with class and respect,” Allen said. "Like coach Saban always talks about.”

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