Even after wins over three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time and a month atop the rankings, Mississippi State travels to Alabama on Saturday as the underdog. "We know that role. We're going to be OK with that," coach Dan Mullen said at his weekly press conference. "Our guys are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder and play with great effort. No matter what everyone else is predicting, we want to play that way every week." The winner not only takes control of the SEC West race but also positions itself well for one of four spots in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Despite holding the top spot in every poll, including the playoff rankings — in which Alabama is ranked fifth — the Bulldogs seemingly have lost the confidence of many pundits, in part because of narrow escapes against Kentucky and Arkansas in recent weeks. The Crimson Tide also had a close call last week, needing to drive for a tying field goal at LSU to force overtime and claim a 20-13 victory. Alabama has dominated the series, winning six straight and 11 of the last 13, and the Crimson Tide have won 13 straight home games overall, the second-longest active streak in the nation.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Alabama -8.5.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (9-0, 5-0 SEC): The Bulldogs are pinning their hopes on star quarterback Dak Prescott, who averages 247.9 passing yards and 86.6 rushing yards and has racked up 18 TDs through the air and 11 on the ground. "I think his experience helps going into a hostile environment," Mullen said. "He is going to walk on the field with confidence knowing that the situation is not going to be too big for him." The defense gives up 311.1 passing yards per game (124th nationally), though the fact the Bulldogs never trailed in six of their nine games contributed to opponents racking up passing yards.
ABOUT ALABAMA (8-1, 5-1): The Crimson Tide once again boast one of the top defenses in the nation, ranking third in the country against the run (89.2 yards per game) and fourth in total defense (274.8), but they have a tough assignment this week. "The balance that they have is almost equal in terms of rushing yards and passing yards," coach Nick Saban told reporters. "Those are the most difficult types of teams to defend, and I think that's largely because of the quarterback. Dak Prescott is a very talented guy in a lot of ways." Alabama's offense also has been more balanced than in recent years and has put up some big numbers, but it was limited to 315 total yards — its second-lowest total of the season — at LSU.
1. Mississippi State's 12-game winning streak dating to last season is the second-longest active streak in the nation and one shy of the school record set from Oct. 17, 1942, to Nov. 11, 1944.
2. The Bulldogs have topped 100 yards rushing in every game and have gone over 200 yards in eight of nine, but Alabama has allowed over 100 yards on the ground only 10 times over the past three seasons and opponents have surpassed 200 yards only once during that span.
3. Alabama's offense ranks third nationally on third down, converting 53.3 percent, while Mississippi State's defense allows conversions only 33.6 percent of the time, 18th in the country.
PREDICTION: Alabama 24, Mississippi State 23