Paul “Bear” Bryant, Mike Shula and Jalen Hurts have very little in common in their respective times as members of the University of Alabama football program. One common thread among them: they all helped UA earn wins over USC.
Alabama and USC have a rich football history against one another for two schools a nation apart from each other with just eight meetings between them. The series is scheduled to get another chapter on Sept. 5 to open the 2020 season, and the history of the series gives that game a lot to live up to.
The first game between the two came in 1938, when simply playing the game was a bit of history for UA. The Crimson Tide had made its fair share of trips west at that time — it had played in two of the last four Rose Bowls — but this was just the second time UA had travelled west of Austin, Texas, for a regular season game. The other was a game against Saint Mary’s (California) in 1932.
The game was a meeting of coaching legends. Bryant was an assistant coach for UA alongside another future UA head coach, Harold Drew, both serving under Frank Thomas, coach of the 1934 and 1941 national championship teams.
That UA team beat USC 19-7, a team coached by Howard Jones. At the time of this game Jones had five national championships at three different schools — 1909 at Yale, 1921 at Iowa and 1928, 1931 and 1932 at USC — and would win another at USC in 1939. He was part of the inaugural class inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
The programs wouldn’t meet again until Jan. 1, 1946 in the Rose Bowl. USC was held to minus-24 yards of offense in the first half and did not gain a first down until the third quarter; Alabama won 27-0, with UA legend Harry Gilmer earning MVP honors.
The schools played two home-and-home series in the 1970s, in Birmingham in 1970 and 1978 and in Los Angeles in 1971 and 1977. Birmingham remains the only place the Trojans have beaten Alabama, winning 42-21 in 1970 and 24-14 in 1978. The 1978 Trojans went on to win the Rose Bowl.
In 1971, former UA running back Johnny Musso ran for two touchdowns in a 17-10 win with all of the scoring coming in the first half; six years later, a 21-20 win was decided when USC decided to go for two on its final touchdown, passing up a tie for a potential win, but the pass was incomplete. Running back Tony Nathan scored both of UA’s fourth-quarter touchdowns.
The two meetings since have been one-sided affairs at neutral sites. Alabama beat USC 24-3 in the 1985 Aloha Bowl; the most recent meeting, a 52-6 thrashing of the Trojans in 2016, is most notable as the day that launched Hurts’ career as UA’s starting quarterback. Blake Barnett started that game and Cooper Bateman threw a pass, but Hurts stole the scene with 118 passing yards and two touchdowns on 6-for-11 passing while running for 32 yards and two more touchdowns.