Alabama head coach Nick Saban shocked the college football world when he hired former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin to replace Doug Nussmeier as the offensive coordinator of the Crimson Tide after Nussmeier left Tuscaloosa to take the same job at Michigan.
When Kiffin arrived in town, he found a virtual All-Star team of offensive weapons to work with in his first season in T-Town.
Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper is back to lead a talented and veteran wide receiving corps, and T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry are vying for the starting spot at running back in front of an insanely deep group of talented and versatile running backs.
Is this the best offense Kiffin will have ever worked with?
No, but it's close.
While the 2014 Crimson Tide team is loaded, the 2004 and 2005 USC teams, of which Kiffin served as wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator for, respectively, have this year's Tide beat in terms of overall talent. Each of those two Trojan teams played for the national title, with the 2004 team vacating its title and the 2005 Trojans falling to Texas in the Rose Bowl. Both boasted elite offenses, with the 2005 team having a slight edge in terms of overall talent.
Let's compare the 2005 Trojan offense to the 2014 Crimson Tide offense.
This is no contest in favor of USC. Sure, Matt Leinart's career essentially peaked in college, but there's no denying how good he was within that system. The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner returned in 2005 to throw for 3,815 yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a whopping 8.9 yards per attempt.
What's more is that was actually a disappointment after his Heisman campaign, which saw him throw for fewer yards (3,322) but more touchdowns (33) and fewer interceptions (six).
Argue his talents at the next level until you're blue in the face, but there's no questioning that Leinart was an elite college quarterback.
Alabama's quarterback spot is a big question mark this year. Senior Blake Sims has emerged as the front-runner midway through spring practice, according to AL.com's Michael Casagrande, but all eyes will be on Jacob Coker when he transfers from Florida State this summer.
Even if you believe Coker will be the second-coming of AJ McCarron, eclipsing Leinart's season in 2005 will still be incredibly challenging for Coker, Sims or whoever wins the 'Bama job.
USC had two running backs go north of 1,000 yards in 2005—LenDale White (1,302 yards, 24 TDs) and that season's Heisman Trophy winner (which was later returned), Reggie Bush (1,740 yards, 16 TDs).
That thunder and lightning combination is a high bar for Alabama to eclipse, but the Crimson Tide have done it with the group Kiffin will have in Tuscaloosa for 2014.
T.J. Yeldon will undoubtedly be the headliner after the rising junior rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. But nipping on his heels is the 6'3", 238-pound sophomore Henry, who rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in Alabama's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
It's a legitimate battle between the two, but Kiffin creating a similar "thunder and lightning" scenario with the duo is certainly possible. But with Alabama, there are still even more options. Kenyan Drake rushed for 694 yards and eight touchdowns last season and is even more dangerous in space than Yeldon. Toss in Altee Tenpenny and bruising fullback Jalston Fowler, and the depth in Tuscaloosa is impossible to ignore.
Cooper had 736 yards and four touchdowns last season in Tuscaloosa, and that was considered a relatively down season when compared to the 999 yards and 11 touchdowns he posted as a true freshman in 2012.
Behind him, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and several talented prospects are there to solidify the wide receiving corps and help ease the transition for the eventual starting quarterback.
But up against USC's group from 2005, there's no comparison.
Dwayne Jarrett had 91 catches for 1,274 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2005, which was the second of three straight seasons in which he eclipsed the double-digit mark in touchdown catches. His running mate was Steve Smith, who had 957 receiving yards that year and would wrap up his college career the next season with 3,019 yards and 22 touchdowns.
That one-two punch is too much for this group of Crimson Tide receivers to overcome, even if Cooper rebounds from his 2013 "down year."
USC had the dynamic duo of Dominique Byrd and Fred Davis at tight end in 2005, both of whom enjoyed tremendous careers in the City of Angels. Byrd had 306 yards in 2005, while Davis had 145 and two touchdowns.
Can current Tide tight end O.J. Howard top them?
I think he can.
The world got a glimpse of what the 6'6", 237-pound monster was capable of on his 52-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter of Alabama's 38-17 win over LSU last season. He's an elite route-runner who presents matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
The new Crimson Tide quarterback needs a safety valve, and Howard will be it. He will be one of the top tight ends in the country in 2014 and could be the best one Kiffin has ever worked with as a college coach.
This is where USC really separates itself from Alabama. While the 2014 Crimson Tide offensive line is talented, USC's version was simply next-level.
Left tackle Sam Baker, left guard Taitusi Lutui and center Ryan Kalil were all first-team All-Pac-10 members that season, with right guard Fred Matua being named to the second team, according to the archived list on Washington's website. Lutui was a consensus All-American that year, according to Sports-Reference.
Alabama has some talented pieces along the defensive line this season, including Austin Shepherd, Alphonse Taylor, Leon Brown and incoming star Cam Robinson; but Kiffin and head coach Nick Saban are still moving those parts around to find the right fit, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
USC's 2005 offensive line was the perfect storm of stars aligning, which was a big reason—"pun" intended—why USC played for the national title that season.
Alabama's offense is loaded with talent, and Kiffin's track record as an offensive guru (when he's not distracted by the responsibilities of a head coach) certainly makes the future bright for the Tide offense.
But this group has some work to do if it wants to overcome the 2005 Trojans as the most talented offensive college team that Kiffin has ever coached.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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