USC football Coach Ted Tollner says, without exaggeration, that Alabama is the best team his Trojans will have played this season.
Alabama (8-2-1) and USC (6-5) are opponents in Saturday's Aloha Bowl game at Honolulu, but the Crimson Tide could easily have been playing in a New Year's Day bowl game instead, according to Tollner.
"Alabama is definitely a Top 10 team and could be among the top three if it hadn't lost two games (to Penn State, 19-17, and Tennessee, 16-14) by a total of only four points," Tollner said.
Throw in a 14-14 tie with LSU, and Alabama is only five points shy of an unbeaten season.
"Some other teams may be better in certain phases but, from an overall standpoint, Alabama is the best team we will have played," Tollner said. "We really believe they're one of the best teams in the country.
"If you evaluate their strengths, defense would be No. 1. Tackle Jon Hand and linebacker Cornelius Bennett are two of the finest defensive players you will see. They have size, strength and speed and play at an intensity level like the All-Americans they are.
"They've gotten most of the media attention, but Alabama doesn't have a weakness on defense."
Tollner said that while Alabama's defense overshadowed the offense at the outset of the season, the offense has since earned a reputation of its own.
"They have an offensive line that really comes off the ball, an impact player in freshman halfback Gene Jelks and quarterback Mike Shula's statistics are very impressive," Tollner said.
Shula, son of Miami Dolphin Coach Don Shula, has thrown a school-record 16 touchdown passes, with a completion percentage of 60.3, another record.
Alabama also has a big-play wide receiver in Albert Bell, a former All-City player from Crenshaw High, and a proven field goal kicker in Van Tiffin, whose last-second, 52-yard kick beat Auburn, 25-23, in the final game of the regular season.
Alabama Coach Ray Perkins can't use USC's so-so record to inspire his team, so he has had to be more creative.
"The Trojans have one of the best traditions in the country. They are a team that has always had fine athletes," Perkins said. "This year is no different. I think they're better than a 6-5 football team. They beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl last January and beat UCLA a couple of weeks ago, and they (the Bruins) are going to the Rose Bowl."
The only flaw in Perkins' assessment is that this USC team hasn't shown itself to be as good a team as the one that beat Ohio State on Jan. 1.
Perkins did note, however, that USC does not have a great running back when compared to past Trojan teams, but added that quarterback Rodney Peete "could be a big factor with his passing and running ability."
Perkins said his players feel they are better than some teams playing in the prestigious New Year's Day bowls.
"It's always easy to look back and think we could be better off," Perkins said. "But . . . things are what they are, and we just have to make the most of it. We're not out to prove we deserve a better bowl.
"The Aloha Bowl has a more prestigious game than one or two of the New Year's Day games. It has two schools with greater tradition than any other bowl."
The Trojans have won more bowl games, 21, than any team in the nation. Alabama has won 20, but leads the nation in bowl appearances with 37.
Aloha Bowl Notes
Alabama has won eight of its last nine bowl games; USC has won seven of its last eight. Four Rose Bowl wins are included among Alabama's 20 bowl victories. Alabama beat USC, 34-14, in the 1946 Rose Bowl game, the last game played before the Pacific 10-Big Ten series was started. . . . USC had won eight straight Rose Bowl games before losing to Alabama. . . . As a wide receiver at Alabama, Ray Perkins still holds Orange (1966) and Sugar Bowl (1967) records for most yards receiving in one game--159 and 178, respectively, against Nebraska . . . . Saturday's game will be televised by Channel 11 starting at 5:15 p.m. PST. . . . Three of Alabama's four leading rushers are freshmen--Gene Jelks (588 yards), Bobby Humphrey (502 yards) and Murry Hill (117 yards). . . . Notre Dame, Arizona State and Alabama are the only teams with an edge over USC in an all-time series of six or more games. Alabama is 4-2 against the Trojans. . . . Saturday's game will be a homecoming for USC offensive tackle Gaylord Kuamoo, who attended Radford High in Honolulu.