At this point, though, expectations at Alabama aren't generated so much by anyone in the program, however experienced, but by the program itself. The pipeline of talent Nick Saban has constructed to Tuscaloosa over the last five years is beginning to resemble not just a factory but a monopoly. Since 2008, four of 'Bama's last five recruiting classes – the classes feeding the 2012 roster – have been ranked by at least one of the major recruiting sites as the best incoming crop in the nation, producing a perennial contender regardless of the annual attrition. Last year's national championship run came in spite of the loss of four first-rounders from the 2010 team (not to mention the starting quarterback, Greg McElroy), and once again, the new faces in the lineup this fall come with the full accoutrement of blue-chip accolades.
Norwood said he also has added a few pounds of muscle. Now listed, at 6-2, 195 pounds, he is among UA's biggest options at the position. Milliner said it's not his size that makes him difficult to cover, however. "(It's) his route running, and he's got great hands. You probably underestimate him when he lines up in front of you, but once he gets going, he's got great routes," Milliner said. "When the ball comes, he goes up and gets it or goes down and gets it. He's just got great hands." Norwood said the receiving corps is a deep and talented group despite its lack of collective experience, and believes quarterback AJ McCarron will find a wide range of targets this fall.
There will almost certainly be some sharing of duties because Alabama's backfield depth, with Dee Hart, Jalston Fowler and A-Day MVP T.J. Yeldon, is substantial. Part of the attraction of Lacy, though, is the intrigue of precisely how high his upside really is. "I don't think about that," he says. "We are a team. I want to carry the ball, but I want us to win. So my job is to make sure everybody stays positive and nobody lets down. "I think we can have a great offense. We have a good quarterback and a good offensive line. We all just need to do our jobs."
Smart's tight-knit relationship with Saban, who first hired him as a defensive backs coach at LSU in 2004 and then plucked him away from Georgia two years later to coach with the Dolphins, continues to grow. Even before he promoted Smart to defensive coordinator, Saban gradually entrusted him with more and more responsibility, such as the third-down coverage packages Smart handled with the Dolphins. "To be honest, it makes you a lot better coach when your boss is in the meeting room," Smart said. "You're a lot more driven every day." Saban and Alabama's players continue to benefit from the fact that Smart has yet to drive off to a new destination on his stabilized rise up the coaching ranks. "Continuity in the coordinator position really creates a tremendous comfort zone with the players," Saban said. "They trust and believe in the system and trust and believe in the people who teach the system and work with them on a daily basis."
Smart, entering his sixth season with the Tide, has more holes to fill. He's got to replace seven starters from a group that led the nation in all the major statistical categories - total, scoring and rush and pass defense. Smart urges caution in one regard: comparisons to 2011. "That defense is gone and we're not holding these guys or making any comparisons to that defense,'' he said. "These guys are being compared to the goals we have every game. Our goal is to win the game; that's what we're comparing these guys to. If you win the game, we stop the run, we stop the pass - every goal we had last year - so they're being held to the Alabama defensive standard, not the 2011 defense standard.'' Smart likes the defensive line depth but doesn't see "a lot of great players per se, a Marcell Dareus.'' "We've got a lot of competition going on at every position,'' he said. "More competition this year than I can ever remember before because there's just a lot of equal players.''
"We really like him," center Barrett Jones said. "I think he’s a great fit for what we have going on here. What I like is he really hasn’t come in and tried to change everything. "He has added some things to our offense, but I don’t think he’s going to want to change the things we do well and try to mess up the good things we have going. "I think he just wants to come in and add to that. He’s really come in and done some cool things. It’s almost like we haven’t skipped a beat on the offensive end. He’s worked really hard in the offseason to familiarize himself with everything we do and add some new stuff that he does. It’s about as seamless a transition as I can imagine."
Milliner, expected to start at one cornerback spot, said that junior college transfer Deion Belue has looked good at the position. Milliner said it helps that Belue went through spring training. "When you get out here early and get into the roll of things, the way we do things around here ... that’s big," Milliner said.
Bowl organizations and cities are weighing how to best use their resources. Several industry sources believe New Orleans and Dallas are the favorites to land the Champions. The biggest difference with the Champion's 18-page RFP is a bid option using an alternative, revenue-sharing model. Until now, bowls with SEC tie-ins have offered a lump-sum guaranteed payout to the conference, such as the Cotton Bowl's $3.75 million to the Big 12 and $3.4 million to the SEC. The lump-sum option remains for the Champions. But in addition to or instead of the lump sum, the bidding host can also offer a minimum guarantee, a management fee it retains, and a structure to share revenue.
As Kirby Smart said on Sunday, Alabama's defensive line might not have a player as talented as Marcell Dareus, but it has "a lot of depth." At last month's SEC Media Days, senior end Damion Square was humming a similar tune. "You want your experience up front," Square said. "If you can't stop somebody on the line of scrimmage, you really don't have a game to play. Somebody can play you off the line of scrimmage.
"The Tessitore Effect," as it soon became known on Twitter, returned the next Friday when Miami of Ohio quarterback Austin Boucher completed a tipped pass on fourth-and-20 en route to the game-winning touchdown in the MAC Championship Game. Then, on the first Friday of 2011, Tessitore called Baylor's wild 50-48 upset of TCU. He was in Tempe, Ariz., a few weeks later when Missouri coach Gary Pinkel curiously iced his own kicker, helping Arizona State beat the Tigers in overtime. And most broadcasters go their entire careers without experiencing what Tessitore did on consecutive nights in November, first calling Iowa State's overtime upset of undefeated, second-ranked Oklahoma State in Ames, then Robert Griffin III's game-winning touchdown to beat No. 5 Oklahoma in Waco. "It's fun to consider," said Ed Placey, ESPN's senior coordinating producer for college football. "Do games like this follow Joe around?"
That success has driven rights fees to heights the Bob Devaneys of 1984 never dreamed possible. College football television revenue pays for the scholarships of athletes in non-revenue sports and builds bigger and fancier stadiums. It also has inspired a rash of conference-hopping that began a few years after the Supreme Court ruling and hasn't stopped. (It has not, however, changed the fact that the student-athlete labor force is allowed by the NCAA to receive only tuition, books, room and board.) Television has changed college football -- and all of college athletics, for that matter -- for better and for worse, and despite a host of new distribution methods already in use and on the horizon, television's influence doesn't appear in danger of eroding anytime soon.