HOOVER — There's been plenty of time for Nick Saban to celebrate Alabama's second national championship in the last three years.
But the head coach is ready to move on.
And so are his players.
At the Southeastern Conference's Media Days on Thursday, senior center Barrett Jones admitted this year's roster is going to need to avoid the complacency that plagued the Crimson Tide the last time they were in position to repeat.
“In 2010, Coach Saban really preached to us to avoid complacency and warned us against what was going to happen the year after a national championship,” he said. “But I really don't think the leaders bought into it. I think the difference this year is that we realize it's more than just a coach saying something. We realize the 2012 Alabama team has zero wins and zero losses. We have a lot to prove, and we have a target on our back.”
Saban said he's been encouraged by his players' commitment to forming their own identity so far this offseason. That was an aspect Alabama struggled with en route to a three-loss 2010 following a BCS title the year before.
“This team seems to be less affected by what happened the previous year,” the sixth-year coach said. “They're not really the 2010 team, and they're not really the 2011 team.
“I think this 2012 team will be defined by what they do, not what they've done.”
The Tide will be tested right away when it opens its season against Michigan in the Cowboys Classic Sept. 1 in Dallas. Saban said the national exposure that comes with scheduling marquee matchups on neutral sites like this has significantly helped the program's development since he took over in Tuscaloosa.
“It's worked out well for us,” he said. “I think playing a great opponent like Michigan the first game of the season really enhances your players' work ethic and preparation in the offseason because they know they're going to play a top-notch team right off the bat.”
Alabama will have to traverse its brutal schedule — featuring conference road games against Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and LSU — without 13 starters from last year's team, including All-Americans Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Courtney Upshaw.
On the flip side, four of the Tide's 10 returning starters — Jones, Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Anthony Steen — are on the offensive line. They're expected to open big holes for new No. 1 running back Eddie Lacy.
“We feel really good about what we're doing up front,” Jones said. “I feel like this year, we obviously have a ton of talent and we're going to combine that with communication to hopefully have the best offensive line I've ever been a part of.”
Who gets to be Lacy's primary backup in the backfield is still unknown. There's a good chance the spot could go to Jalston Fowler, who had four touchdowns in 2011, but true freshman T.J. Yeldon and redshirt freshman Dee Hart are expected to compete for playing time.
“The whole position is like having a stable,” Jones said. “I think the second spot is up for grabs. But there won't be a drop-off, I can tell you that.”
Replacing one of the best defenses in college history won't be as easy, but the return of four starters — Robert Lester, Nico Johnson, Jesse Williams and Damion Square — should help.
“It's everything you can want as an offense,” Jones said of the team's D. “Knowing we have the defense we do, we can take more chances as an offense, knowing that if we have to punt or if a long throw is intercepted, 70 percent of the time we're going to get the ball back without the other team even getting a first down.”
Saban doesn't want to repeat just so he can add a fourth national championship trophy to his resume. Instead, he said he'd like to go back-to-back to prove his program is capable of maintaining success over a long period of time.
“We've obviously learned a lot at Alabama over the last five years,” Saban said. “The most important thing is that you've got to stay on top of the little things.
“Things don't happen by accident. You don't win a game by accident. You don't win a division by accident. You have to make it happen by what you do every day.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.