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2019 Opponent Preview: Alabama

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Welp.

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

I hope the South Carolina Gamecocks and their fans wring every last bit of enjoyment out of the romp against Charleston Southern, because life comes at you fast. In this case, “life” is Alabama, and “fast” is Week 3 of the college football season — a season that, as many outlets have been happy to remind us for months, is the hardest USC has faced in ages. This next team is a big part of why, and while the Crimson Tide really doesn’t need an introduction, we might as well — it’s been almost 10 years since these programs met on the field.

Last meeting: I’m glad you asked!

Still a feather in USC’s cap, the Gamecocks earned their first win over a No. 1-ranked team when they shocked the Crimson Tide, 35-21, in Columbia in 2010. That Alabama roster featured such luminaries as Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, all-world receiver Julio Jones, and future SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy, who, likely as a result of this game, always gives the Gamecocks a little shine. While the broadcast will assuredly beat this highlights package to absolute death, it might nonetheless serve as a pleasant distraction from the on-field action. And truly, it never gets old to see Alshon Jeffrey’s absurd one-handed catch, Marcus Lattimore doing Marcus Lattimore things, and Stephen Garcia finally delivering on the hype.

Last season: As is typical, the Tide rolled through its 2018 schedule, arriving at the SEC Championship game with a 12-0 record, No. 1 ranking, and guaranteed College Football Playoff spot. Although Georgia took a 21-14 lead into halftime, Alabama conjured some of its comeback black magic and inserted formerly-deposed quarterback Jalen Hurts, who promptly rallied the Tide to a 35-28 victory in the final minutes. Bama then took care of business against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl before getting absolutely and inexplicably manhandled by our furry friends up north in the national championship game, thus adding to a very long offseason for the Garnet and Black. Thanks, fellas.

Player to watch out for: How do you choose who to spotlight for this segment with a loaded roster like Alabama’s? Throw darts? Close my eyes and just point? Have my dog sort through it like those zoo animal Super Bowl predictions? But seriously. We’re all very aware of Tua Tagovailoa, the ridiculously fun-to-watch quarterback who has unfairly elevated Alabama’s typical grinding, wear-you-down offense into something much more explosive and faster-paced. There’s also the Tide’s receiving corps to worry about, which is both excellent and deep, headlined by 2018 Biletnikoff Award winner and soon-to-be-first-round NFL draft pick Jerry Jeudy. Speaking of the draft, the Tide is probably its “weakest” on the defensive side of the ball, with the departure of stars like Quinnen Williams. But rest assured there’s another crop of four- and five-star youngsters ready to step in, and it’s going to require a special team to be able to take advantage of even this green defense. Yeah, I’ll just...I’ll stop here.

Comedy option: Keep an eye on Bama’s kicking game, as it’s been the Tide’s inexplicable Achilles heel for years despite a renewed focus on recruiting at that position.

Prognosis: It’s Alabama. Preseason polls are still trickling out, but you can safely pencil the Tide in for a No. 1 or No. 2 spot in all of them, as well as a place in the SEC Championship game and College Football Playoff discussion. The dynasty looked shockingly vulnerable for the first time last season, but it’s still going to take more than just one national championship defeat to knock Alabama from its perch. We’ll see to what extent Nick Saban gets his groove back.