Mississippi State (7-0) at Alabama (7-0) Oct 27, 8:30, ESPN
Here's The Deal: Simply put, this is the biggest game in the history of Mississippi State football.
There have been a few nice moments since the school started playing in 1902, but the stakes have never been this high and the team has never been nearly this good going into the game against the big, bad Crimson Tide. Alabama owns this series, highlighted by a run of 37 wins in 38 tries from 1957 to 1995, with the lone blip a shocking a 6-3 win over the 7-0 Crimson Tide in 1980. However, MSU came into that game with a loss.
In 1999, the Bulldogs started out the season 8-0 thanks to a mediocre schedule, but reality set in with a trip to Alabama and a 19-7 loss.
This is bigger than the 1998 SEC championship appearance against Tennessee, and this is more important than any bowl game the program has ever been a part of, because this time around, a win over Alabama might mean a No. 1 ranking and consideration in the national championship picture.
No one is expecting too much out of MSU, and few are making a big deal out of a 7-0 start with no wins of note. Beating Tennessee was nice, but thumping Auburn and getting by Kentucky isn't a big deal. It took way too much work to get by Troy, and the win over South Alabama was hardly impressive, but none of that matters at this point. Now, the Bulldogs get their shot at the big bully on the block. There are more problems to come with Texas A&M, LSU, and a rivalry date at Ole Miss still to deal with, but if MSU is good enough to win at Alabama, it's good enough to win every game left on the slate.
For Alabama, it's just another Saturday.
While this is hardly a game of note for the Tide, unless they lose, a win would start to build up the résumé a little bit more. No one doubts the team's talent, and few are reasonably debating whether or not the defending national champion is No. 1, but the win over Michigan isn't generally considered to be anything special, and wins over Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee didn't bring anything more than a yawn. With MSU this week and the showdowns against LSU and Texas A&M to follow, there will be plenty of chances for the Tide to flex a little more muscle.
Why Mississippi State Might Win: The Bulldogs are good at doing all the little things right. It's going to take a nearly perfect performance for someone to beat Alabama, and it's going to take a team not beating itself. Mississippi State is No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin giving away just one interception and three fumbles on the season. This is also among the least penalized teams in the nation committing a mere eight over the last three weeks and 30 on the year for a paltry 258 yards; the team just doesn't shoot itself in the foot. Ever. It's even doing the little things like covering punts as well as anyone in the country, leading the nation by knocking returners back for -0.57 yards per return so far.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have the best secondary Alabama has faced by far. While the Tide doesn't need to bomb away with the passing game, they're going to have a difficult time against Johnthan Banks and the MSU defensive backs that are allowing just 189 yards per game and are 12th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. They kept Tennessee to 148 yards and two scores through the air, and while they gave up 349 yards to the high-powered Troy passing attack, they didn't give up a score and came up with two picks.
Why Alabama Might Win: The offense might have too much for the MSU defense. Yes, the secondary has been great, but the run defense has had a few problems with the teams that can actually run, giving up 223 yards and three scores to Troy and getting run over by Tennessee for 213 yards and a score. The Bulldogs don't have a great pass rush and they're not going to be able to make too many big plays behind the line, and they're about to get pushed around by a Tide front five that's crushing and killing everything in its path. Alabama won't need to do anything crazy. It can run the ball, hit the third down throws, keep the chains moving, and prepare for LSU.
Offensively, the Tide showed last week that they can do a little of everything right. Not only can they run as well as anyone in the country, but they can also bomb away with the most efficient passing game in America. Against Tennessee, A.J. McCarron got time, he let his receivers work deep, and he connected. Defenses are so afraid of the ground attack that they're being exposed in the secondary – at least the Vols were – and while MSU will rely on its corners to hold firm, McCarron should still be effective enough to force the safeties to worry about the deep ball.
What To Watch Out For: Alabama has a nice sales pitch to the top recruits; if you're good enough, you'll play right away. Amari Cooper is growing into a superstar with excellent deep speed and mature route-running ability for a player with so little experience. He emerged with eight catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Ole Miss, and last week he destroyed Tennessee with seven catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
While Cooper is still a few years away from dealing with the NFL, the pro types will be watching to see how Banks does against the young star. The 6-2, 185-pound senior is an interception machine with 15 career picks for a whopping 274 yards. While he probably won't come up with any picks, as long as he can ease Cooper, or take away one side of the field, he'll be one of the most important players on the field.
What Will Happen: The Tide will keep on rolling. They'll be in for a fight, and the offense is going to struggle to come up with the big plays they're used to, but the defense will do its job against the Bulldog offense that's not going to get anything going down the field and will struggle to get Ladarius Perkins moving on the ground.
CFN Prediction: Alabama 38 … Mississippi State 13
Line: Alabama -23.5 O/U: 48
Must Watch Rating (5 – The Girl, 1 – Don't Trust The B In Apt. 23): 5
Week 9 - Mississippi State at Alabama
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