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Alabama South Carolina Football

South Carolina's quarterback Stephen Garcia celebrates as he leaves the field after defeating No. 1 Alabama 35-21 in on Oct. 9, 2010, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

Few South Carolina fans will ever forget the 2010 win over then-No. 1 Alabama at Williams-Brice Stadium.

On that note, this year the Crimson Tide return to Columbia in week 3 on Sept. 14.

Alabama

Last year's record: 14-1

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Last year vs. South Carolina - Did not play (Last met in 2010, a 35-21 South Carolina win)

Key losses - QB Jalen Hurts, RB Josh Jacobs, RB Damien Harris, OL Jonah Williams, OL Ross Pierschbacher, TE Irv Smith Jr., DL Quinnen Williams, DL Isaiah Buggs, LB Christian Miller, LB Mack Wilson, DB Deionte Thompson

Quick look

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Some would have you believe that the dynasty is crumbling after Clemson humbled Alabama in the national title game and the Crimson Tide featured another offseason of wild coaching staff turnover. Then there's the loss of 10 players to the NFL Draft to contend with, a yearly rite of passage for the program under head coach Nick Saban.

But this is still Alabama. This is still as talented a team as there is in the country. And the Crimson Tide will still likely enter Williams-Brice Stadium, for the first time since the Gamecocks toppled them in 2010, as the No. 1 team in the country.

Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa returns at quarterback looking to improve on a sensational sophomore campaign that ended with two defeats, a last-minute Heisman loss to Kyler Murray and the aforementioned shellacking at the hands of Clemson. But Tagovailoa won't only have the motivation of those losses driving him, he'll also be delivering passes to the conference's best wide receiver group, which features Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Henry Ruggs III and Devonte Smith.

The Tide may have to replace NFL running backs in Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris, but Najee Harris, Brian Robinson Jr. and true freshman Trey Sanders should be more than up to the task.

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Strangely, there actually are some concerns in Tuscaloosa along the offensive line, defensive line and with the depth at linebacker, traditional strengths under Saban, though "concerns" at Alabama probably have a different meaning than the word does in any other program.

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Alabama should be strong in the secondary, where it returns experience and talent with cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II, Trevon Diggs back and safeties Xavier McKinney and Shyheim Carter.

Players to watch

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QB Tua Tagovailoa, Jr. - A consensus All-American last season, Tagovailoa completed 245 of his 355 passes for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns to just six interceptions, torching the Alabama single-season record book in the process. As impressive as Tua's numbers were, Saban has challenged his star quarterback this offseason: "Tua has to challenge himself to get back. Being hurt was an issue at end of (last) season. He has to challenge himself to get back into great shape. He should take the perception he has a lot to prove -- as do all of us -- relative to how the season ended." (via Brett McMurphy)

WR Jerry Jeudy, Jr. - Take your pick on which of Alabama's fabulous receivers to feature, but Jeudy was the best of the bunch statistically, so we'll give him the edge. The Deerfield Beach (Fla.) standout led the Crimson Tide last season with 68 catches for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to the Biletnikoff Award, presented each year to the nation’s top wideout. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder will again be a feature component of Alabama's passing game.

RB Najee Harris, Jr. - Harris had to share time in the backfield last year with Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris -- and Alabama will likely split its running back carries again this year -- but Najee Harris should get the first call. Now a junior, Harris was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the country by Rivals in 2017. Harris did a lot of damage in the carries he did get last season, rushing for 783 yards on just 117 attempts, a 6.3 yards per carry average.

The matchup

Even though it's in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice, this is probably South Carolina's most difficult matchup of the season. Nick Saban has never lost to one of his former assistants and Alabama will certainly have a talent advantage over the Gamecocks in this week 3 battle.

There are high hopes in Columbia for both the Gamecocks' potentially upgraded defensive line and secondary and this game should provide a strong early test for both. Can the Gamecocks' front four put some pressure on Tua and force him from sitting in the pocket behind an offensive line that does have some question marks?

Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu have the chance to be one of South Carolina's best cornerback duos in recent memory. And they'll get the chance to prove they can match up in coverage against multiple future NFL receivers. South Carolina will need to have its nickel position locked in by this game too, since Alabama will certainly put three and four receivers on the field and spread them out.

As talented as Alabama is on offense, one thing to watch is what changes new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will make to that scheme and if there will be an adjustment period for Tua and the rest of that group.

The Sarkisian hire certainly raised some eyebrows around college football. With the former Falcons' OC set to rely less on the RPO game and more on pro-style full-field progressions from the quarterback position, there could be some growing pains from what already seems like an odd decision for an offense that was so good last season.

Alabama has a new defensive coordinator as well in Pete Golding, who was promoted into that role after serving as co-defensive coordinator, though it's hard to see that scheme changing much under Saban.

Even if there are questions for the Tide up front, there's still a load of talent there, and this will be the first major test for a South Carolina running game that has been focused on improving against top competition.

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Wes Mitchell reports for http://www.GamecockCentral.com, the http://www.Rivals.com affiliate devoted to USC athletics.

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