What will Alabama's identity be this season?
How will this team—fresh off a national championship—define itself this year, which technically starts next Friday when Alabama reports on Aug. 2 and begins practice on Aug. 3.
Just two days after Alabama beat LSU for the Coaches' Trophy in January, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban called a returning players meeting where he essentially told them that they are not national champs.
"You haven't done anything, that team is gone," Saban said in an interview with SEC Digital Network last month. "You will be a target for every team we play and you need to get ready to know you're going to get everyone's best game."
Complacency will be Alabama's greatest obstacle in 2012 if they allow it.
At SEC Media Days last week, senior center Barrett Jones—who knows what can happen if a team has a national championship hangover of sorts—said that in 2010, the reason why the Crimson Tide went 10-3 was due to the fact that the team's leaders didn't buy in to Saban and that had a trickle-down effect.
"Obviously complacency is a big word for us this year and we want to avoid it at all costs," Jones said. "Coach Saban preached to us to avoid complacency and warned us what would happen if we didn't buy in."
But this group might be different than the group in 2010. At least at this point in July, Saban feels that they are.
"This team seems to be less affected by the previous year," he said. "They're not really the 2010 team, they're not really the 2011 team. There's a lot of players on this team that this is the opportunity for them and their season.
"We have guys on our team that have been on both of those past teams…this team seems to be very much committed to creating an identity for themselves."
There are a lot of easy comparisons that can be made from 2010 to 2012 (and the season hasn't even started yet). First of all, this Alabama team returns its starting quarterback in A.J. McCarron and has a strong presence in the backfield with running back Eddie Lacy.
"It's really, really difficutl in college football to carry momentum from one season to the next," Saban said. "You lose 25 percent of your team. That's an understatement for us. We lost 13 starters from our team last year. And the new 25 percent that you bring to your team, really they don't have knowledge and experience, they haven't played. They're young players. Maybe very talented players, but they're very young players.
"So you have to create your own identity by what you do. You have to create momentum by what you do. Everybody has a new role."
The Tide has a new group of leaders—some of whom have held leadership positions before, but this year take on more responsibility—in McCarron, Lacy, and defensemen Robert Lester, Nico Johnson and Jesse Williams.
So how will they make sure everyone doesn't fall into a complacency trap?
First of all, they haven't even had time to think about being content this summer. Jones said last week that the summer workouts have been the hardest he's ever endured in his time at Alabama.
The younger players must not be omnipotent and almighty, but rather openly embrace new roles and the leadership the upperclassmen want to bestow upon the team as a whole.
"I think this 2012 team will be defined by what they do, not by what they've done," Saban said. "We're looking forward to the challenges of the 2012 season."
And challenges Bama will face. Not just the obvious ones like its difficult schedule (especially on the road), but internally, how this team will avoid being content with what the program has achieved, especially in recent years, and develop a chemistry unique to this year.
Though there are a few on the schedule, Alabama does not face a cupcake team in the season opener. Said Saban of facing a storied program like Michigan in Week 1: "I think playing a great opponent like Michigan in the first game of the season really enhances your players' work ethic and preparation in the off-season because they know they're going to play a top-notch team right off the bat and that's very challenging."
If history repeats itself, Alabama will be one of the top teams in the league—like it was in 2010—but not win a second straight title. But with the efforts put forth to avoid complacency, entitlement and the like—and form a different identity from the teams of yore—maybe the Tide will throw history out the window en route to its 15th crown.
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