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Alabama Football: What to Watch against Western Carolina

Let’s be honest. We all hate these games. The Alabama Crimson Tide’s game against Western Carolina on Saturday is nothing more than an obligatory affair. The Catamounts have lost nine straight games after starting the season with a win over Mars Hill. They are 1-9 overall and 0-8 in the Southern Conference. They have lost by double digits in eight of those nine games.

But much to our chagrin, these games will continue to happen. I don’t like it, but I understand the necessity for it. These games are important for the smaller FCS schools like Western Carolina as they will get a very nice payday for the beatdown they will receive in Tuscaloosa this Saturday. A payday that has already been very important to their athletic department.

The $475,000 the Catamounts received to come to Bryant-Denny Stadium has allowed Western Carolina to upgrade its video editing equipment.

That’s all well and good, but competitive this game will not be. It will be a blowout, and if you are at the game Saturday you will likely spend most of the fourth quarter with your nose in your program trying to figure out who is on the field in Crimson.

That’s no disrespect to Western Carolina, but this game will not be close and it won’t be all that interesting to watch unless you are a football nerd like me.

For those of you that aren’t too hungover and will be in attendance, and for those of you who will be watching it on the SEC Network early Saturday afternoon, here is what to watch for when the Crimson Tide takes the field.

Putting Last Week’s Loss in the Rear-View and Not Looking Back

Alabama lost last week. As painful as it was, it’s time to get over it. That loss is in the past and it is imperative that the Crimson Tide doesn’t look back. After losing to LSU in overtime last season, Nick Saban and the coaching staff did a great job at getting Alabama to focus on what was ahead of them and not on what was behind them. That team went on to win the BCS National Championship in a rematch with the Bayou Bengals in New Orleans.

You can bet that Saban and company have mentioned how last season’s squad survived a loss. The hope for this game is that Alabama comes out fast and puts Western Carolina away early. Saban says it has been a good week of practice, but you never really know how the players are going to respond until game day.

Alabama still has a lot to play for, regardless of whether or not they will get the opportunity to play for the National Championship. As long as the Crimson Tide beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl next week, they will advance to Atlanta to play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama could potentially finish the season 13-1 with an SEC Title and a BCS Bowl victory, and really it’s pretty hard to complain about that kind of season.

We all would have killed for that kind of result during the Shula days.

Avoiding Injuries

Perhaps the most important thing on Saturday will be staying healthy. The biggest worry in games like this is losing a key player to an injury in a game you could win with said player standing on the sideline for the entire sixty-minutes. The injury bug has bit Alabama hard this season, with several players being lost to season ending injuries, and other guys dealing with nagging injuries.

A win is inevitable. Leaving Bryant-Denny with the team completely intact is not. Alabama will need to be healthy for the two weeks that follow as they look to wrap-up the SEC West against Auburn, and then face off with Georgia in the SEC Championship game, in a matchup that could easily turn into a play-in for the national championship, but more on that later.

Who is that guy?

Several times on Saturday, you will be nudging the person next to you in the stadium or on the couch and asking that particular question, so keep your programs or online rosters handy. You are going to need them.

Games like these are ones where you hope to see a lot of the younger guys see action. It gives them valuable experience for the future, and it allows you to rest your starters and key backups after the game is well in hand.

I’m hoping that guys like AJ McCarron, Eddie Lacy, Amari Cooper, and the entire starting offensive line don’t have to take many second half snaps. This game needs to be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage for those guys.

The first team defense will likely see more of the field than the first team offense, but also look for Alabama to play a lot of guys on that side of the ball as well. Freshmen such as Landon Collins, Denzel Devall, Reggie Ragland, Geno Smith, and Tyler Hayes among others should see a decent bit of playing time on Saturday. That will be key for the future as all of those guys will likely be key contributors somewhere down the road for the Crimson Tide.

Hope for Chaos

As much as last week’s loss sucked for all of us, the Crimson Tide isn’t done yet. They dropped to only 4th in the BCS as the highest ranked one loss team in the country. The three undefeated teams – Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame – will all be in action this week.

For Alabama to get to Miami, they will need two of those three teams to lose. If two of the three do fall, then the Alabama/Georgia game practically becomes a National Championship semifinal with the Tide and Bulldogs being ranked higher than any other one loss team.

Kansas State and Notre Dame shouldn’t have a whole lot of trouble this weekend as the Wildcats take on 4-5 Baylor and the Fighting Irish do battle with 5-5 Wake Forest. I say that, of course, but you never know with Notre Dame. I think Kansas State will win easily, and Notre Dame should, but don’t be surprised if the Irish are locked in another closer than expected game.

Notre Dame was supposed to blow out Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Instead, the Panthers took them to overtime, and by all means should have come out victorious as they blew chance after chance in their upset bid.

The biggest hope for one of the three remaining (eligible) undefeated teams to lose this weekend is Oregon playing host to 13th ranked Stanford. Vegas is bullish on the Ducks – listing them as a 20-point favorite – but with a banged up defensive front, Stanford poses a threat to Oregon with their power running game.

The Ducks should have some guys back on defense this week, but it should still be a stern test against the Cardinal, with Stanford boasting the top-ranked run defense in the country.

It’s unlikely that chaos will happen this weekend, but then again, this is college football and if I have learned anything since I started watching this sport it is this: Anything can happen on any given Saturday.

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