GAMEDAY: Players to watchBy Michael Schwartz | 08/31/2016 10:35pm
Cooper Bateman looks for an open receiver during practice.
CW / Jake Arthur
Players to watch: USC vs. Alabama
QB Max Browne:
Alabama quarterbacks Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman at spring practice on April 1, 2016.
After standing on the sidelines for two years, junior quarterback Max Browne finally gets his shot at the starting job. Although he has only attempted 19 passes in his collegiate career, the Trojans will need his game management and strong arm to complete the upset over the Crimson Tide.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster:
Last year, as a sophomore, JuJu Smith-Schuster proved to be more than just a speedy wideout. Smith-Schuster transformed into an impact player who provided a deep, vertical threat for the Trojans' offense. Even with finishing last year with nearly 1,500 receiving yards, Smith-Schuster is raising the bar for himself and could potentially be a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award once again.
LB Cameron Smith:
The defending Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year had his season cut short due to a troubling knee injury in 2015. Before that, however, Smith was a force to be reckoned with in the middle of this Trojan defense. He was not only one of the team's leaders in tackles, but also led the team in interceptions. If USC wants to contain Alabama’s running back duo in Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris and pull of a win, it will need Smith to be a defensive mastermind.
OL Zach Banner:
It is no secret that the defensive line is a major strength for the Crimson Tide, but Zach Banner may be the most talented offense tackle it'll face all season. The senior from Tacoma, Washington, made the 2015 All-Pac 12 team and showed his versatility by starting games last year at right and left tackle. Standing tall at 6-foot-9 and weighing 360 pounds, Banner may be one the most physically imposing offensive lineman in the nation. Look for Banner to lead the battle in the AT&T Stadium trenches.
QBs Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett:
Another year, another quarterback competition unfolds in Tuscaloosa, and with neither quarterback pulling away from each other, both Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett will more than likely get their shot Saturday night. Out of the two, Bateman has more in-game playing time to his name from last season, but Alabama coach Nick Saban hasn't announced a starter. Either quarterback could take the field first.
WR Calvin Ridley:
As a freshman, Calvin Ridley bursted onto the scene for the Crimson Tide and led a memorable 2015 campaign that resulted in him landing on the SEC All-Freshman team. Even with the return of wide receiver Robert Foster, it appears Ridley will stay atop the depth chart as the top dog in a talented receiving core. The USC defense will have its hands full because coupled with his speed and ability to blow the top off a defense, Ridley has the body control similar to what Alabama saw in former Alabama standout Amari Cooper.
The secondary may be the deepest unit on this 2016 edition of the Crimson Tide. Starting with the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson, Alabama's secondary could be the most dominant it has been in years. With that said, it still has a fierce task ahead in trying to slow down Smith-Schuster, the best receiver it may face all year.