USC will open the 2016 season against @Alabama tonight at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, but it won’t be the first time the Trojans have battled the defending national champions this year.
Two of the premier programs in college football have also faced off in recruiting where the two schools have gone after a handful of the same players because of each school's ability to recruit nationally.
Though they might have gone after a handful of the same players in the past, the crossover has become more common in recent years. The Alabama recruiting steamroller under head coach Nick Saban has spread its way across the country while USC has begun to target more targets in the Southeast with coaches that are from the area, including several with connections to Alabama.
“You know when you start to recruit, you want to go out and beat them because the competitive juices start to flow,” said running backs coach Tommie Robinson, a Phenix City, Ala. native who played at Troy State. “You get the competitive spirit, so you want to go out and get them in recruiting. It gives me a little extra incentive to go out and beat them because I was an Alabama fan growing up when I was a young kid and everything.”
USC went into Alabama to pluck receiver Velus Jones Jr. and have a 2017 commitment from Mobile (Ala.) McGill-Toolen receiver Marlon Williams. But the Crimson Tide, who currently have players from 27 states and the District of Columbia, have pulled a top 60 recruit from California each of the last two recruiting classes. The nation’s top 2017 recruit, Antioch (Calif.) running back Najee Harris, is also currently committed to Alabama and Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis School quarterback Tua Tagovailoa verbally chose the Tide after being considered a USC lean.
“They are pretty much rolling, especially in the South,” said USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin, who is from Mobile, Ala. and led Alabama rival Tennessee to the 1998 national championship. “But when you look at their roster, they've been able to go national, especially up and down the East Coast, Louisiana, Mississippi whether it's junior college, high school. When you win national championships, you win SEC championships, you play in the playoffs, you're more recognizable on a national level.”
Alabama has won out over USC for recruits such as Fort Worth (Texas) Arlington Heights defensive line beast A'Shawn Robinson, who was drafted in the second round by the Lions this year, and Madison (Miss.) Germantown four-star defensive back Nigel Knott. Even though Alabama has been able to dip into California, USC has had the upper hand in the majority of the head-to-head battles, particularly on the West Coast
Alabama was hard after La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat five-star wide receiver Tyler Vaughns, trying to get him to visit just before National Signing Day, but Vaughns skipped the trip and stuck to his commitment with the Trojans. Five-star Long Beach (Calif.) Polytechnic cornerback Jack Jones went back and forth between USC and Alabama in the final days leading up to National Signing Day.
USC defensive back Jack Jones is locked in during a fall camp play.
“Late January I'm thinking Alabama,” Jones said in February after announcing his commitment to USC in a video featuring rapper Snoop Dogg. “Best choice. They're losing their starting corner. I could possibly win the natty. Coach Saban is one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game of college football.”
Jones ultimately called both coaching staffs, heard their final pitches and chose to stay home and be a Trojan: “SC was just so complete to me. That was the missing piece of the puzzle and now the puzzle is put together.” He quickly went from considering joining the Crimson Tide to preparing to play them. “I'm trying to come in and kill Alabama first game, straight up,” he said that day.
USC’s biggest wins against Alabama over the last few years have come with players of Polynesian descent. In the 2014 class, the Trojans battled down to the wire for five-star Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco offensive Damien Mama and five-star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. USC won out, getting commitments from both on National Signing Day.
That came in addition to flipping four-star Corona (Calif.) Centennial offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao, who had previously committed to Alabama.
“It's funny, man. Fate has a funny way of meeting up again,” Talamaivao said this week of playing the team he had once committed. “Like right when I came in, Sark got hired. That's when they made the announcement [for the Alabama/USC game].”
Talamaivao said his original interest in the Crimson Tide stemmed from their team success, football history and offensive line tradition.
“I was just excited because they recruited me hard. That was another reason why I was leaning on Alabama,” Talamaivao said. “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited to play Alabama. A lot of those guys I know from the recruiting class — my class that are playing now, so I'm excited. It's going to be a fun game. Yea gee, it was a long time ago. It's hard to think that was almost three years ago now.”
USC’s Polynesian success against Alabama continued this summer when graduate transfer defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu chose the Trojans after visiting Alabama after getting his release from Utah.
“Alabama was a great place. But I felt that this was a good fit for me and since I've been here it was a good move. I wanted to play in the same conference that I've been playing in…and it's closer to home, closer to family.”
Not only did USC pick up a player at a position of need, who has become the starter to open the season, but they kept him away from adding depth to the defensive line they will face tonight. The Trojans won the offseason battle, which could play a factor in whether they can beat Alabama on the field.
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