"We go by, be the best Alabama defense there's been. We compare ourselves to the last five years of Alabama defenses. When you do that, last year's defense was not exactly up to par. Not exactly spectacular. We put in a lot of work to improve on defense."
There wasn't quite the same defensive talent exodus this go-around. Smart's 2012 group had to replace three first-rounders; this team lost only one. Even though 10 Tide defenders were drafted the past two years, that doesn't diminish the ambitions.
Nor does facing seven teams that employ hurry-up, no-huddle offenses.
Saban and Arkansas' Bret Beliemma have been vocal in their distaste for that style, saying it's an injury hazard for defenses that can't substitute.
Plus, the Tide's worst defensive moments came when faced with the brisk tempo last season. Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M racked up 187 yards and 20 points in the first quarter to hand Alabama its only loss, 29-24. Similarly speedy Mississippi, meanwhile, racked up marathon touchdown drives of 13 and 16 plays.
"We've studied a lot of teams in the offseason," Smart said. "A lot of NFL teams have come here to study fast tempo and running quarterbacks, which is kind of the new trend going forward. So we've been able to study with those guys for any ideas, try to create ways to give them negative plays.
"There's an upside and a downside to fast tempo because when teams go fast tempo, there's a lot of things they can't do at the line. We try to create an advantage for us by being able to give them negative plays, and I think if we can do that it can hurt them with their up tempo."