Alabama football coach Nick Saban again will pit the No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense in this afternoon's A-Day spring game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which will be televised by ESPN at 3 EDT. Junior safety Mark Barron is the only defensive starter returning from the Crimson Tide's 32-13 throttling of Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game, while the offense returns the familiar trio of quarterback Greg McElroy, tailback Mark Ingram and receiver Julio Jones.
"Last year, we did it this way for the development of our offense," Saban said. "This year, we're doing it this way so our defense gets a chance to play together, and we develop a defense that has a lot of new faces."
Or as junior defensive end Marcell Dareus, the hero of Alabama's BCS championship game victory over Texas, put it, "We really need the competition."
In last year's A-Day game, the Crimson team with the first-team offense held its own against the veteran defense and defeated the White team 14-7. McElroy was the Crimson quarterback and completed 16 of 30 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, including a 52-yard scoring strike to Jones.
Marquis Maze caught five passes for 87 yards and rushed twice for 47 yards to join McElroy as the Dixie Howell Memorial Award game MVPs.
"I think this game is really important," McElroy said. "Once you've set that mark high at the end of the spring, you have something to build on in the summer. When we set it up high the way we did last year, we had a lot of confidence and felt proud about what we accomplished in the spring.
"Everyone wants to go out there and put their best foot forward. Its definitely something we need to build upon."
A.J. McCarron will quarterback the White team and be joined in the backfield by Trent Richardson, who rushed for more yards than Ingram in three games last season, including the 26-21 escape at Auburn. In the BCS championship against the Longhorns, Ingram had 116 yards and Richardson ran for 109.
Who has more yards between Ingram, last season's Heisman Trophy winner, and Richardson isn't a stat Saban plans to concern himself with.
The most intriguing number today may be the attendance. Alabama set a college football record in 2007 with a capacity crowd of 92,138, and a whopping 254,388 fans have attended the past three spring games.
Ohio State set the new standard last season with a crowd of 95,722, but Alabama's game a year ago was televised nationally by ESPN for the first time and still drew 84,796. Saban is hoping Tide fans will pack Bryant-Denny for the first time since last season's 45-0 win over UTC and for the last time before the Sept. 4 opener against San Jose State.
"This has been a special day at the University of Alabama, at least the three years I've been here," he said.