TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Western Carolina coach Mark Speir has dealt with some of the challenges Alabama faced in recent years as the team everyone badly wants to beat.
It makes Saturdays that much harder, if decidedly less daunting than taking a 1-9 Football Championship Subdivision team to face the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (9-1), which is coming off its first loss of the season.
Speir was an assistant on the Appalachian State teams that won three consecutive FCS titles from 2005-07.
``Getting this kind of loss late, it can cripple a national championship,'' said Speir, ending his first season leading Western Carolina. ``But the thing about Nick Saban, whether you like him or not, he's one of the best in the business, of all-time.
``He's a guy that it doesn't matter if they're going to play the Green Bay Packers or Western Carolina University or Smoky Mountain Middle School. He's going to prepare that team the very best he can.''
Given the obvious mismatch, this might be the fourth most important game of the day for Alabama, which fell 29-24 to No. 9 Texas A&M last weekend after 10 weeks atop the rankings.
Later, No. 1 Oregon faces No. 14 Stanford, No. 2 Kansas State visits Baylor and No. 3 Notre Dame meets Wake Forest. In those games, at least, the Tide will be cheering for the underdogs.
Two of those unbeaten teams will likely have to lose for Alabama to play for a third national title in four years in Miami.
``We're just focused on now and what we have ahead, not on Miami,'' Tide tailback Eddie Lacy said. ``If we take care of everything, Miami will take care of itself.''
That means beating Western Carolina and Auburn and then No. 5 Georgia in the SEC championship game. The Tide would earn a berth in Atlanta with a victory over the Tigers.
The next order of business is restoring order to a program that barely beat LSU and lost to the Aggies.
``We have an opportunity now to prove that we are and can be a good football team,'' Saban said. ``That's what we want to focus on. That's all we want to talk about. We are looking forward.
``The only thing that we can gain from the past is lessons learned, for all of us, in terms of what we can do better, what we need to do better and what everybody has to make a commitment to in terms of trying to do better and accomplish something significant with what is left of this season with this team.''
The Tide now faces an FCS team with two wins in the past two seasons. The Catamounts have lost all 13 games against SEC schools by an average of 47-4.
Alabama handily won the two previous meetings with Western Carolina, including a 52-6 victory in Saban's first game with the Tide five years ago.
Western Carolina hasn't beaten a Division I (FCS or FBS) team since topping The Citadel on Oct. 2, 2010.
Speir has still tasted both the joys and challenges success creates during his tenure at Appalachian State, which included an upset of No. 5 Michigan in 2007 on the same day as Saban's Alabama debut.
``It just gets harder and harder and harder because you have a huge target,'' Speir said. ``You get every team's very best shot. You get every trick play on special teams. You get every trick play on offense, especially in the SEC. It's just hard to do what they've done.''
Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said the team's attitude in practice has been positive after the loss.
``That's one good thing about this team,'' said McCarron, who was intercepted twice against Texas A&M. ``You can't worry about things that happened in the past. You can't control that. Got to move on. We got to win out, take care of business and, you know, just control what we can control.''