- Alex Scarborough, SEC reporter
Scarborough: To start things off, give us a brief tutorial on the Catamounts. What's their style of play? What are their strengths and weaknesses as you see them?
Goode: Any summary on WCU has to begin with the program’s recent plunge from near mediocrity to utter futility. Since the Catamounts’ last winning season (5-4 in 2005), Western has lost 43 of its 46 Southern Conference games. Dennis Wagner, who stepped down as head coach before the Cats’ final game last year, had a four-year winning percentage of .182 (8-36) -- second-worst in the program’s 78-year history. The team’s greatest strength right now is probably hope and enthusiasm surrounding new coach Mark Speir and his staff, who are implementing their version of the spread offense. Weaknesses are too numerous to name, but the top one would be defensive ineptitude.
Scarborough: How has Western Carolina looked this spring? Do you expect any changes from last year's team that finished 1-10 overall?
Goode: I expect the Cats will be more competitive this season under the new regime, but they’re probably at least two or three recruiting classes away from rising above the middle of the SoCon pack. Speir comes to one of college football’s least successful programs from one of the FCS’s best, Appalachian State, where he’d served as recruiting coordinator since 2004. A sharp guy with infectious optimism, he brought three other Appalachian assistants with him: Brad Glenn, who’ll be offensive coordinator; Trey Elder (receivers) and John Holt (offensive line). Together with the rest of the staff, they brought in some promising newcomers despite a short recruiting season. Based on what I’ve seen the past few years, though, it’s hard to imagine WCU winning more than four or five games -- unless these guys are truly miracle workers.
Scarborough: Western Carolina has won just five games over the last three seasons. What is keeping the program from turning the corner?
Goode: Defense is at the top of a long list. WCU was the perfect remedy last season for any struggling offense that had the good fortune of facing the Catamounts. Western ranked dead last among 120 FCS programs in rushing defense (334.09 yards allowed per game), and the Cats were next to last in total offense (509.63). A losing culture has settled in over the past six years, and that’s something else Speir must contend with.
Scarborough: Who is one player you think Alabama fans should watch out for?
Goode: Receiver Deja Alexander has struggled with injuries and illness the past two years, but he’s probably the team’s top playmaker when healthy.
Scarborough: What has to happen for the Catamounts to keep this game interesting?
Goode: A plague of illness would probably have to strike the Crimson Tide. In all seriousness, even if Western makes amazing strides during its conference season, the Catamounts simply can’t match up with a powerhouse program like Alabama.
Each week at TideNation we will speak with a writer who covers one of Alabama's 2012 opponents. Today we spoke with Tyler Norris Goode, who covers Western Carolina for Asheville (N.