This offseason, Nick Saban and his staff added some minor decorations to the Alabama weight room.
Maroon and white towels hang from various workout machines, sporting the Texas A&M logo. Looped highlights run on the high-definition televisions overhead, showing Johnny Manziel running through the Crimson Tide, Oklahoma and others on his way to the Heisman trophy.
It's hard to beat Saban. But it's even harder for him to forget about those defeats.
So you can bet come Sept. 14 in College Station — in what many are billing the game of the season, pending Manziel's eligibility — Saban's squad will be amped up, out for revenge in a rematch with the Aggies.
But in reality, it remains the other way around. Alabama is not the hunter but the hunted.
The SEC, as a whole, may be running an extended monopoly on college football. But Alabama is running a more recent monopoly on the SEC.
Three national titles and two conference belts the last four years. A combined 35-5 SEC record since 2008. A 16-2 mark the past two seasons, outscoring conference opponents by more than 24 points per game.
And there's no reason to think it's going to stop.
Not with another defense loaded with NFL talent (what else is new?) and plenty of experienced offensive weapons, like thousand-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon and 1,000-yard receiver Amari Cooper, surrounding two-time national champion quarterback A.J. McCarron (three if you count his redshirt year).
“Since I'll be around for four more football seasons,” Barack Obama said during Alabama's recent visit to the White House, “I expect I just might see these guys again before I leave.”
The President is not alone with that pick. It's a near consensus, with the Tide entering 2013 as the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation.
But SEC challengers are aplenty, with six of the country's top 13 ranked teams coming from the conference.
Texas A&M, ranked sixth in the preseason coaches' poll, returns the Heisman winner (once again, pending eligibility concerns) and South Carolina, ranked 7th, returns arguably the best defensive player in the past decade, in Jadeveon Clowney.
“Clowney is the best football player in the world,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said at SEC Media Days. “Seriously, I think he might be the very best player who exists today at any level.”
But it's actually Richt's Georgia Bulldogs, ranked fifth, who many see as Alabama's biggest challenger.
They return strong-armed quarterback Aaron Murray, who is on pace to obliterate all of the school's passing records, a talented receiving corps, all five starting offensive linemen and two sophomore running backs (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) who combined for 2,144 yards and 25 touchdowns as freshmen.
Plus, they have a relatively soft conference schedule, with only three road games, against unranked Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Auburn, and no game against either A&M or Alabama.
“The fact that we're in the type of league that is so rugged that people understand even if a team has one loss, they still might be worthy of an opportunity to play for a national championship,” Richt said, “that's exciting to be a part of that type of league.”
But regardless, it's clear that everything still runs through Tuscaloosa until somebody breaks up that monopoly.
“The biggest thing for me is, why does your time have to end?” McCarron told the Montgomery Advertiser. “It doesn't have to end.”