Alabama and USC seem to be inextricably linked in the college football world. The most arguably hated head coach in USC history is currently Alabama’s offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin. The Trojans and Crimson Tide shared the national title in 1978. And, of course, Alabama and USC’s 1970 game led to the full integration of college football.
With this rich history, it is surprising that Saturday’s matchup will only be the eighth between the two schools. Alabama leads the series 5-2 with the last meeting taking place in the 1985 Aloha Bowl, a 24-3 Crimson Tide win. Nevertheless, there have been some great matchups in those five games. Here are five of them.
5. Alabama 19, USC 7
Los Angeles – Sept. 24, 1938
Kicking off the season with a matchup between two schools on opposite sides of the country rarely happened in the 1930s. The Alabama football team took the train to L.A., and made a two-day stop in Tucson, Ariz., to practice at the University of Arizona before continuing on to California. The layover apparently paid off. A pair of touchdown passes and an interception returned for a touchdown gave the Crimson Tide a 19-0 lead in the fourth quarter and clinched the game. Approximately 6,000 Alabama fans greeted the team when it returned to Tuscaloosa.
4. USC 42, Alabama 21
Birmingham, Ala. – Sept. 12, 1970
This game is famous because USC’s walloping of the Crimson Tide helped head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant convince Alabama’s racist powers-that-be to integrate the football team. All the drama took place off the field since the game itself was a good, old-fashioned beatdown with USC taking a commanding 32-7 lead in the third quarter. USC fullback Sam Cunningham gained 135 yards on 12 carries and Bryant would later say, “Cunningham did more for integration in Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years.”
3. USC 24, Alabama 14
Birmingham, Ala. – Sept. 23, 1978
The Trojans shredded top-ranked Alabama’s defense with 417 yards, 199 of which were amassed by future Heisman Trophy winner Charles White. The USC defense did its job as well, forcing six turnovers. Amazingly, the Trojans only led 10-7 in the third quarter, but they sealed the deal with two touchdowns by wide receiver Kevin Williams in the fourth quarter. USC lost to Arizona State three weeks later, allowing Alabama to move back into national championship contention. The two schools would ultimately share the national title with Alabama winning the AP Poll and USC winning the UPI Coaches’ Poll.
2. Alabama 17, USC 10
Los Angeles – Sept. 10, 1971
The legend of Bear Bryant was forged by many awe-inspiring moments. The 1971 game against USC is one of those. Convinced that his team needed to run the Wishbone offense to compete in the 1970s, Bryant installed it between the ‘70 and ‘71 seasons under secrecy. The practices were closed to the public and when Bryant did allow the media to attend, he had his team run a pro-style offense until reporters left. Alabama shocked the Trojans with the triple option in the season opener, jumping out to a 17-0 lead and holding on to win. It remains one of the greatest cloak-and-dagger efforts in college football history.
1. Alabama 21, USC 20
Los Angeles – Oct. 8, 1977
Some nasty play by the Crimson Tide defense gave Alabama a 21-6 lead in the fourth quarter, but USC came off the ropes with a furious comeback. Trojan quarterback Rob Hertel led his team on a 91-yard drive that was punctuated with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Sweeney. Hertel then hit fullback Mosi Tatupu for the two-point conversion. Then on the final drive, USC went 79 yards and fullback Lynn Cain ran into the end zone on a sweep with 35 seconds left on the clock to make it a one-point game. USC head coach John Robinson opted to go for two and the win. Hertel took the snap and dropped back for a pass, but Alabama defensive end Wayne Hamilton forced him to rush the throw and linebacker Barry Krauss intercepted the pass, securing the narrow victory.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.