Toppers treat Tide like any other opponent

Sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal catches a pass in the end zone to score a touchdown during the game Saturday, September 1, 2012 at Smith Stadium. Western Kentucky won 49-10.

Lucas Aulbach

When WKU took on then-No. 1 ranked LSU last November, they lost 42-9.

A lot of people predicted the Toppers would have trouble with the Tigers that season. Few people, however, thought WKU would win every game they played until the next time they played a No. 1 ranked team.

The Toppers, who won the final two games they played following their game at LSU last season and their season-opener this year, will face their toughest opponent of the season on Saturday when they take on No. 1 Alabama on the road.

Kickoff for the game, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., is scheduled for 2:39 p.m.

The Crimson Tide has won two of the past three national championships, including last season.

The strength of the Alabama program has not been lost on head coach Willie Taggart, who said the Crimson Tide has reloaded after losing eight players to the NFL Draft in April.

“They had five or six first-rounders on defense last year,” he said earlier this week. “I thought they said those guys were gone. It still looks like they’re there, just a different number. They’re loaded and it’s going to be a great challenge for our football team to go down there and play them.”

Senior tight end Jack Doyle said the Toppers are looking at this game more as an opportunity to see how they fare against top-tier competition.

“We’re just excited about the opportunity to go play at Alabama,” Doyle said. “Our coaches are putting us in a great situation with some plays to be successful and it’s up to us players to go and run with that.”

Saturday’s game will be the first of two consecutive games for WKU (1-0) against Southeastern Conference opponents, as a game against Kentucky is on the schedule for next weekend.

The Toppers are fresh off of a dominant 49-10 home win over Austin Peay to open the season.

One of the few negatives from the game was a knee injury running back Keshawn Simpson sustained.

He’ll miss the Alabama game.

Senior guard Adam Smith said last Saturday’s performance is a good example of how good the team can be when it’s in peak form.

“We went into that game and did what we thought we could do,” Smith said. “We showed everybody what we have and hopefully we’ll go down to Alabama and have another good performance this week.”

The Toppers are also in the unique position of playing in one of the world’s largest stadiums. Bryant-Denny Stadium holds more than 101,000 people and figures to be crowded for the Tide’s home opener.

The Toppers practiced Wednesday with crowd noise blaring from speakers, but Taggart said crowd noise shouldn’t be a big factor Saturday.

“When you get on the football field, a lot of times you don’t hear that,” he said.

One might think WKU players are looking at this game as their Super Bowl of the regular season or a chance to shock the world.

But Smith said the Toppers are practicing this week as if they were preparing for any other Sun Belt opponent.

“You know those guys are a little better than everybody else you face every other week, but at the same time, you can’t be scared,” Smith said. “You’ve got to go in there expecting to handle business.

“There’s a different game plan this week because it’s a different defense. Of course there’s a few different plays we’re going to run, but as far as our approach, it’s just like every other week.”