Alabama Faces Important Rivalry

Mississippi State is Alabama's most frequent football rivalry, 90 games having been played between the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs since the series began in 1896. It is also the Southeastern Conference football rivalry that pits the schools closest geographically, just over 90 miles separating the campuses.

But it hasn't been much of a rivalry in terms of playing even. Alabama has more wins over Mississippi State than against any other opponent. Bama has won 72 times in the series, with the Bulldogs having only 16 wins and three games having ended in ties.

Under the heading of "What have you done lately?" however, the Bulldogs laugh best because they laughed last. In Tuscaloosa in 2006, Mississippi State took a 24-16 decision. That was the start of four straight losses to end the 6-7 season, and was also likely a key factor in Crimson Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore deciding to make a change of head football coach.

Mike Shula was fired as Alabama coach at the conclusion of regular season play last year.

The State win over Bama in Bryant-Denny Stadium was among a handful of huge victories the Bulldogs have had under Coach Sylvester Croom, like Shula a former Alabama player. Ironically, Croom was on the short list for the Bama job when Moore selected Shula just prior to the 2003 season.

Alabama and Mississippi State get together again Saturday in Starkville. Bama is 6-3 overall and 4-2 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked 21st in the nation. State is 5-4 overall and 2-3 in conference games. Kickoff will be shortly after 11:30 a.m. CST with limited regional television coverage by Lincoln Financial.

Alabama vs. Mississippi State is a game in which there are a number of coaches with connections to both schools. That is particularly true on the Mississippi State side. In addition to Croom having been an All-America player (1972-74) for Coach Paul Bryant at Alabama and assistant coach for the Tide (1976-86), his staff includes former Tide assistant coaches Woody McCorvey, Ellis Johnson, Rockey Felker, Charlie Harbison, Melvin Smith, and David Tiurner. Harbison also coached for Bama Head Coach Nick Saban at LSU. Croom is a native of Tuscaloosa.

It is also a game in which both teams will have players from the opposing team's state. Most notable for Alabama are starting tailback Terry Grant of Lumberton and special teams star Jimmy Johns of Brookhaven, both named Mr. Football in their senior seasons in Mississippi. Another back-up tailback, Jonathan Lowe, is not from the state of Mississippi, but he did play football for the Bulldogs for a couple of years before the Phenix City native transferred to Alabama.

Other Crimson Tide players from Mississippi include back-up safety Justin Woodall from Oxford, freshman fullback Jeramie Griffin of Batesville, wide receiver Mike McCoy of Rankin, and defensive end Milton Talbert of Hattiesburg.

No fewer than 15 players for Mississippi State are Alabamians.

This week's game means more than just the cross-state bragging rights, of course. Alabama is coming off a disappointing 41-34 loss to nationally second-ranked LSU, but that does not make for a disappointing season. No one was surprised to see Bama fall to the Bengal Tigers.

It would be a big letdown for Alabama to suffer a second straight loss at the hands of Mississippi State. There are not likely any championship implications for Alabama, but wins are still important. A victory over the Bulldogs would put the Tide on pace for a reasonably successful season with Louisiana-Monroe and Auburn remaining.

It would also help in sorting out bowl destinations. Alabama is bowl eligible, but there are going to be as many as 11 SEC teams (all but Ole Miss could make it) with the requisite six victories. Assuming Bama doesn't make it to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta and is not one of the BCS teams, and assuming the SEC gets two teams into BCS bowl games, the Tide would have a chance at one of the Florida bowls (Outback or Capital One) with nine wins. With eight victories the Tide would be in contention for the Chick-Fil-A (formerly Peach in Atlanta) or the Cotton Bowl. And considering the number of SEC teams that will be in bowl games, a loss to Mississippi State would jeopardize even the Independence and Music City events.

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