There is a natural assumption that Alabama's AJ McCarron is a vastly improved quarterback compared to last season after enduring some growing pains in his first year as a starter before putting it all together in the BCS championship dumping of LSU.
McCarron isn't buying it.
"I don't really think I am any different," McCarron said. "I think I'm the same player. I might be a little wiser about the game, but I felt like from the middle through the last part of last season that I was on top of everything and knew the game.
"The game slowed down, and it was definitely easier than it was at the beginning of the season."
In last season's opener, a 48-7 rout of Kent State, McCarron split snaps with Phillip Sims, and each quarterback was intercepted twice. McCarron took over as the unquestioned starter the following week, a 27-11 win at Penn State, and the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from Mobile wound up going six consecutive games without getting picked off.
There were seven games a year ago in which McCarron completed at least 70 percent of his passes, and he finished the season 219-of-328 passing for 2,634 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 66.8-percent completion rate placed second in school history, behind the 70.9-percent clip predecessor Greg McElroy had in 2010.
In the biggest game of his career, McCarron completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards against LSU's vaunted defense, and he spread the ball around the Superdome turf to seven different receivers.
McCarron may not seem to think he is much different from last year, but Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has a changed view.
"I think any time you have an experienced quarterback, there is a comfort level," Saban said. "There are so many intangibles that go with being a good quarterback - judgment, accuracy, timing, leadership that can affect other people. The experience you have at that position always makes you feel a little bit better about all that, and I think AJ is poised to continue to improve and have a really good year for us."
Those intangibles also have been noticed and appreciated by new Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
"When you look at his body of work from where he started the beginning of last season and where he ended and then where he started spring ball and where he finished it and where he started fall camp, I think he continues to get better and better every day," Nussmeier said. "He works extremely hard. He's very conscientious, and I'm really excited about what the future holds for him.
"I think he has a very, very high ceiling."
McCarron had the luxury of easing into last season with tailback Trent Richardson, but the offensive prospects are brighter this season even without the Heisman Trophy finalist. Alabama has a quality tailback quartet with Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon, a crop of underrated receivers, and a line that should be second to none nationally.
Center Barrett Jones came back to try to earn All-SEC honors at a third different position, and he is rooming with McCarron as the two continue to leave last season behind.
"We maybe had 72 hours to celebrate," McCarron said, "and then it was 'This team hasn't done anything.' Everybody is looking forward to this year."