"You think I played three years for nothing?"
Editor's note: All week, CBR's writers will be offering up their national championship picks for the upcoming season. Allen Kenny picked Alabama for the back-to-back championships, but today Kevin McGuire sees a different outcome for the Crimson Tide.
There are plenty of reasons to like Alabama's chances to become the first repeat national champion in the BCS era. As Allen pointed out yesterday, the Tide have the talent to refuel a number of key positions on defense and it remains difficult to seeing the reigning BCS champions getting through the regular season with more than one loss, and as we all seem to recognize, a one-loss SEC champion is all but assured a spot in the BCS championship game right now.
Alabama's schedule may not be the easiest to navigate through, but as long as they take down Michigan in week one and avoid an upset at Arkansas, they can manage getting by most of their games as the favorite. A road trip to Baton Rouge will be tricky in early November, but we already recognize that Alabama can likely play for a title losing one game along the way.
I see no reason to disagree with Allen's logic as far as the Tide are concerned, but I do see a team standing in the way of Saban's road to college football history. Remember, Nebraska was the last team to win back-to-back national championships in 1994-95 and the last time an SEC school won consecutive national championships was when Alabama did so in 1978-79. As good as the SEC is as a conference, no team has won, or played, for consecutive BCS titles. Half of that changes this year but one thing stands in the way of Alabama pulling off back-to-back titles: The return of the Trojans.
After two years without being able to play in a postseason game, the USC Trojans look to have what it takes to return to the big stage in grand fashion. Really, would we expect anything else from the most notable program on the west coast? Of course not.
Matt Barkley returned for one final season at USC to have the opportunity to lead his beloved Trojans to the promise land. Winning a national championship really does seem to mean something to the Heisman candidate, so much so he turned down a chance to be an early pick in this year's NFL Draft (apologies now to the Miami Dolphins). Barkley will have top-notch targets to throw to as well with Marqise Lee and Robert Woods leading the way. The Trojans return 1,000-yard rusher Curtis McNeal, a fifth-year senior, but the position looked to be the one possible weak area on offense. That is no longer the case with the recent addition of junior Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd, also a 1,000-yard rusher. Redd may not start ahead of McNeal (at first at least) but the Trojans now have a solid 1-2 punch in the running game.
On defense USC brings a unit that played some young players last year that could contend for All-American honors this season. The defensive line could be a problem area after losing a trio of starters but with a solid linebacking corps led by Dion Bailey and a secondary capable of shutting things down with T.J. McDonald, there won't be too much concern on the defense in the early going while the line gets caught up to speed.
As for the USC schedule, it might not be the easiest. After all, they may have to play Oregon twice this year. The Trojans get the Ducks at home in early November and the two are expected to meet in the Pac-12 championship game again at the end of the month. USC also will get Notre Dame at home to wrap up the regular season, and that game could be somewhat interesting as well. The only other significant hurdle on the schedule is an early road trip to Stanford, but this year USC looks to have the overall edge heading in after a tough loss last season to the Cardinal.
It almost seems unfair that two of college football's most historic powers have met just seven times, with the most recent meeting taking place in the 1985 Aloha Bowl. Aside from four classic and historical match-ups in the 1970s, and a 1946 Rose Bowl, there has not been much else to speak of. The significance of the 1970 meeting in Birmingham is well-documented of course, and perhaps in a different fashion the 2013 BCS Championship Game meeting between college football's leaders in all-time bowl victories (Alabama leads 33-31) will be remembered for ages to come as well.
Head-to-head, Alabama has the edge in coaching with Saban clearly more accomplished than Lane Kiffin, but even Saban has shown times when his game plan and team come up small (first SEC championship vs. Florida, Sugar Bowl vs Utah, LSU game last year?). Saban is great, but he is not unbeatable. For Kiffin, a BCS championship would be a step up over Chip Kelly at Oregon and silence some of his doubters around the nation. To do so against an SEC power would be even more special after his Todd Graham-esque stint at Tennessee.
I think Kiffin gets it this season.