By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press
They say no team is unbeatable. They apparently haven't seen Alabama play recently.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide has been startlingly good this season, outscoring Michigan, Western Kentucky and Arkansas 128-14. Each of Alabama's games has essentially been over at halftime.
And, oh by the way, did we mention Alabama is the defending national champion.
So what's the game plan? Where do you start looking for a way to beat the Tide?
"You've got to say a little prayer the night before," Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart said.
Taggart likes to kid. Before his Hilltoppers played Alabama he joked the Tide was the next NFL expansion team.
If he found a weakness on the game tape, he wouldn't share it Monday, but he did say, as you might expect, the No. 1 priority when beating Alabama is to not beat yourself. Limit turnovers, penalties and mistakes.
Former Arkansas and Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said: "You've got to play error-free football."
The same can be said about beating any very talented team: LSU, Florida State, Oregon, etc. With Alabama, the margin for error is thinner.
Former NFL quarterback Gary Danielson, who has been the lead analyst for CBS' Southeastern Conference coverage for seven years, uses a hockey analogy to describe what it's like to play against Alabama.
"If you're going to go against Alabama you have to win the one-one-one battles against the boards," he said. "It's a rough, tough game. And there's 11 battles going on on the field right now and you can't get pushed around on the boards."
It's not just about avoiding the careless turnover or silly penalty, it's about matching Alabama's attention to detail — which is unsurpassed.
"When you have outside leverage as a defensive end you can't get hooked (inside)," Danielson said. "You have to do your basic job. If you're a corner and you have inside technique, you can't get beat inside. If you're a safety and you have the responsibility of not giving up the deep touchdown, you can't come up and try to make a tackle 3 yards from the line of scrimmage and get beat for a touchdown.
"On offense, if you're a running back and you have blitz pick up, you have to pick it up. If you're a wide receiver and you have to make the easy catch, you have to make the easy catch. They're too good to give them stuff."
In a world of spread offenses and multitalented quarterbacks, zone-options and air raids, Alabama's offense is relatively old-school. The quarterbacks throw. The running backs run. The receivers catch. The Tide plays tight ends and even lines up a fullback at times.
To beat Alabama, you've got to stop the run, Nutt said.
To do that, you've got to get through a line that is so good last season's All-American tackle, Barrett Jones, is now playing center to make room for the future All-American tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio.
To beat Alabama, you've got to win the turnover battle, said Nutt, who is now working for CBS Sports Network.
Then he adds: "But the thing they do best, is they don't turn it over."
To beat Alabama's ferocious and fast defense, you have to have a high-quality quarterback and offensive balance, Danielson said.
"If you let them use all of their plays on defense, and not force them to play right- and left-handed, they'll pound most college teams," he said.
Even with all his high praise, Danielson doesn't believe Alabama is unbeatable. However, the list of teams talented enough to have a shot is pretty short.
"I would say this: Eight games, if the bus shows up they're going to win. The other four games or five, you have a chance to beat them but you have to do a lot of sound fundamental things."
The punching bag is starting to hit back.
The Sun Belt Conference followed up the biggest upset of the season, Louisiana-Monroe's overtime victory against Arkansas, with another strong weekend against the SEC.
ULM nearly made it two straight over the SEC by taking Auburn to the wire and Troy played toe-to-toe with Mississippi State. But the high point was Western Kentucky winning 32-31 at Kentucky in overtime on what will easily go down as one of the plays of the year.