- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 1 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.
Finally, it its here: College football eve for the Crimson Tide. One day is all that separates us from the start of Alabama's national championship defense, about 24 hours longer until the kickoff against No. 8 Michigan.
Defending the title won't be easy. It's why no one has done it since Nebraska in the mid-1990s. Getting two rings in three seasons was difficult enough. Three in four is next to impossible.
But if Alabama is going to repeat, there's one area that will be most important in accomplishing that: redefining the identity of the Tide.
In 2010, Alabama tried to continue along the same lines as the year before. They had the same running back, the same quarterback and the same wide receiver. All things were normal.
That's why they failed. Things were too status quo. Their identity stayed the same. There wasn't enough hunger and there wasn't enough competition.
This season, Alabama has a chance to repeat with very little staying the same. Three-quarters of the starting defense is gone, a Heisman Trophy finalist is playing running back in the NFL and AJ McCarron's top four targets in the passing game aren't on campus anymore. Even the offensive coordinator and a top defensive assistant are gone.
With all the turnover, the offseason in Tuscaloosa has been busy. Complacency wasn't an option. Players were fighting for jobs, coaches hurrying to figure out their team.
But what is the identity of Alabama in 2012? What will they look like?
According to head coach Nick Saban, it won't be a lack of effort or talent; it will come down to finding an identity and sticking to it.
"Everybody's going to say if the team doesn't play well, that's because they feel entitled," Saban said. "But I can tell you from everything they've done from how they reported to fall camp, conditioning test being the tops that we've ever had and the work ethic and all that. If this team isn't successful, it's not going to be because of the character and the attitude of the team. It's going to be because of the lack of experience the team has at certain positions and they may make too many mistakes to win it. It's not going to get compared that way, I'm sure, because this team has done everything the right way. Some parts of the team, we have good experience and good players and other parts of the team, we're going to be playing with young players. How rapidly those guys mature and can execute without making critical errors in the game... If we go play a great game and make two or three critical errors and they make big plays on them, do we have an entitled team or do we have a team that made three errors that cost them the game? I don't feel like I've seen any part of this team that says they don't have the right character and attitude.
"It's a whole other different thing to create consistency in that identity and to be able to have the resiliency to overcome adversity if things don't go your way. That, to me, is more of a maturity standpoint than it is from any other standpoint. But this team has done everything they need to do to prepare to play this season and I've been pleased with that."