Mississippi State’s five-week rein atop the rankings was certain to end with Saturday’s 25-20 loss at Alabama. Bulldog status among the elite remains steady though, as both the Associated Press’ 60 pollsters and voters for the Amway Coaches poll kept Mississippi State #4.
Coach Dan Mullen’s team is now 9-1 overall and 5-1 SEC. That’s good enough to sit a half-game out of first place in the Western Division, though Alabama’s win not only gave them the lead but the direct tiebreaker as well at 9-1, 6-1. The Crimson Tide benefited from their home win, climbing from #4 in last week’s AP poll to #2 with 16 first-place votes. Unbeaten Florida State got 43 to take first place, and Oregon the other top vote.
Alabama scrimmages Western Carolina this week before hosting slumping Auburn November 29 where the Tide can clinch their berth in Atlanta. A loss though would open the door for State as long as the Bulldogs take care of Vanderbilt this week and come out on top of the Egg Bowl. That game will be 2:39 for CBS in Oxford, before the Iron Bowl is played, not that it ought matter to State.
It is worth noting that despite slipping a few slots, this week’s ranking would still have been the highest-ever for any previous Mississippi State team or season. The 2014 Dogs made history in October when they reached the top-five and then #1. The 1981 team reached #7 with a 6-1 record before falling at, ironically enough, Alabama. The 1999 Bulldogs followed a similar track; they climbed to #8 on the strength of a 7-0 start, only to lose at again Alabama.
Until this season the highest ranking for a Mullen MSU team was #11 in 2012 with an 8-0 start. There’s no need to say where that streak also ended.
But if these 2014 Bulldogs have become the fourth such squad to have their season disrupted in Tuscaloosa, this team need not get derailed. For one obvious fact, all their predecessors went straight from a painful road loss into a very tough next game; and each time they lost. This year Mississippi State’s schedule conveniently brings Vanderbilt to town. It is a conference opponent to be sure but the Commodores are struggling again, 3-7 under a first-year coach and 0-6 in league games.
Then there looms ever-larger the annual schedule-ending brawl with Ole Miss, this year in Oxford. The Rebels (8-2, 4-2) had a free weekend to watch Auburn and LSU—both of whom have wins over Ole Miss—lose badly and fall behind them in the SEC standings. The Rebels are 8th in the polls now with their own hopes of slipping back into national discussion if they win this week at Arkansas and upset State at home.
Now State awaits Tuesday evening’s release of the College Football Playoff committee rankings. The Bulldogs were first in the inaugural-ever CFP release. They will drop here, too, but how far is all that matters…at least in popular perception.
These in-season CFP rankings mean nothing real as the only release which counts comes December 7, selecting and seeding four teams for the first-ever Playoffs. Bulldog fans can take encouragement, too, that the CFP does not seem to rank teams during the season with an eye towards who will actually be the four finalists. That would be wise, not pinning the committee to any positions needing defending or maintaining in the way polls have always operated.
Having a to-then-perfect record and season spoiled wasn’t fun for State. But it need not put the Bulldogs on the back foot for the rest of the regular schedule, not with so many post-season opportunities still to be won.
”We know the team we are,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “We have to continue to stay focused, moves past this. Everything we’ve worked for and every goal we have is still completely intact this season.”