Going into the 2011 season, A.J. McCarron wasn't even sure he'd be a starter on a team most everyone had circled as a national championship contender.
McCarron had to win a quarterback battle with freshman Phillip Sims in training camp and into the early part of last season.
Once he did, he went on to throw for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading Alabama to a 12-1 record and the BCS national championship. Sims went on to transfer to the University of Virginia.
In the Allstate BCS Championship Game on Jan. 9, McCarron threw for 234 yards and was 23-of-34 passing in a 21-0 shutout victory over LSU at the Louisiana Superdome.
Many now point to that game as a potential coming-out party for McCarron and say the quarterback could be poised for an even bigger year this season.
"I don't think there's any doubt about it," said FOX Sports and NFL Network analyst Charles Davis. "I think he came into his own last year, and now there will just be a continuation with what A.J. did as he progressed and as he saw the trust they gave him as the year went on. He's going to carry himself differently, and he's going to be more confident. He's going to be fine."
Both McCarron and Davis are in Thibodaux for the annual Manning Passing Academy held at Nicholls State in Thibodaux.
McCarron said his mind set an approach leading up to the rematch with LSU on Jan. 9 was a stark contrast to that of the first meeting between the schools last year on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., - a game the Tigers won, 9-6, in overtime.
"The first time we played LSU, I was trying to hold my emotions in, and I really didn't say a whole lot," McCarron said on Friday in Thibodaux. "I'm usually a guy that gets everybody going and talks in the huddle and just gets everyone mentally ready, but I kind of kept to myself that week and didn't play like myself.
"I knew I had to come out (differently) the second time, especially with more of the load being on me. It was probably the first time all year we really opened it up and got to experiment and do more than we usually do. I definitely felt good airing it out."
McCarron may get to air it out even more this year. While Alabama is known for its running games, that doesn't mean McCarron is shying away from the possibility of throwing the ball.
He welcomes any challenges but says he's fine with whatever his role is going forward.
"Everybody said we were more of a run team last year, but our stats toward the end of the year, we were probably more pass (oriented)," McCarron said. "I think we're going to throw the ball more, but I don't really care. I'm not a selfish guy and don't care if we throw it or run it. I just want to win."
Archie Manning, the camp's founder, said Alabama's system is a good fit for McCarron.
Manning watched the Mobile, Ala., native participate in camp drills this week and praised the quarterback for having a "strong, accurate arm," and for closing the season with a stellar performance.
"Some teams are throwing for 300 and 400 yards a game," Manning said. "With Alabama, that's not what they have to do. But A.J. played a very good quarterback position last year and then finished strong. They'll always have balance at Alabama, but I've got to believe they've got a lot of confidence in him."
McCarron's own confidence is understandably high going into the 2012 season.
In addition to his performance in the BCS championship game, McCarron, as a first-year starter, threw just five interceptions in 13 games and went 152 pass attempts without a turnover.
He finished the regular season ranked 20th nationally in passing efficiency and was third in the SEC in total offense per game (197.3 yards per game).
"(Jan. 9) was definitely one of my better performances just because of the hype of the game, but I felt I played like that all year long," McCarron said. "I took care of the ball all year, and it was bad luck that (in the first game against LSU) that we couldn't catch a touchdown pass."
He and his team's motto this year, he said, is: "Be Legendary."
"I know that my class alone has a chance to have three national championships in four years," McCarron noted. "That's a way to be legendary. I don't think any class in the history of Alabama has ever won three national championships. There are so many steps for us to take to become legendary, and we can put ourselves in a whole other class and level. I think that's what the team has taken to this year."
While it may be hard to fathom Alabama as an underdog given its recent success, history doesn't appear to be on the side of McCarron and the Crimson Tide repeating as champions in 2012.
No team in the BCS era has won back to back national championships, and Alabama will have to make road trips to Arkansas and LSU this season, in addition to playing Missouri, Tennessee and Michigan away from home.
They'll also be replacing seven starters on defense and other key players on offense.
"I don't know if it will be a letdown year, but it's going to be tough," McCarron said. "The name and the university still stick out. Still, as many guys as we lost, teams still want us, but at the same time, they don't think of us as the same Alabama that we were the past three years. We don't have that Trent Richardson or Dont'a Hightower, but we have a good group of guys that want to play together, and I think it's going to be a special year.
"A lot of people are doubting us, which I like. I hope we fly under the radar the whole year and right back to the national championship."