(1) Mississippi State Bulldogs at (5) Alabama Crimson Tide (-8.5, 51.5 o/u)
This is the time of the year when Alabama (8-1, 5-1 SEC) usually lays the seeds for its national championship run. This season, the road begins with the top-ranked Mississippi St Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0 SEC), who come to Tuscaloosa for an epic battle.
Downplaying the importance of the game is Crimson Tide signal caller Blake Sims, who said, “It’s just the SEC West. There’s a lot of great teams, and Mississippi State is a great team.”
The College Football Playoffs don’t officially begin until January 1. For all intents and purposes, though, Alabama has been in the playoffs since their loss to Ole Miss, needing to win out to make the four-team tournament. Last week, the Tide eked out an OT win in Baton Rouge, needing a last-minute field goal to send the game to an extra frame.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is trying to keep his team focused. He said, “The challenge is more mental than physical, avoiding the relief syndrome, like we just won a big game so we’re supposed to get a week off, go to the golf resort. It’s the wrong time of the year. We have another tough game coming up.”
Mississippi State is led by Heisman candidate quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Josh Robinson, and the 16th ranked scoring defense in the nation. As far as the Bulldogs are concerned, the pressure is something new and exciting.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said, “Obviously the opportunity to play big games late in the season is what it’s all about. It’s what you work for. When you’re in mid-to-late November and you’re playing important games, it’s going to be fun. Hopefully that becomes the norm for our program as we move forward.”
The surreal aspect of this game is that the No. 1 team isn’t favored, and no one really thinks they should be. The Crimson Tide are a perfect 5-0 at home in Bryant-Denny Stadium, winning by an average of 34 points. They haven’t only beat up on lesser programs like Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, either, posting a 20-point win over Florida and an astonishing 59-point win over then-No 21 Texas A&M.
Mullen said, “Every article you read, everywhere you look, we’re the big underdog in this game. We’ve done that before and we know that role. We’ll be OK with that. Our guys will play with great effort and with a chip on our shoulder that we try to play with every week no matter what the rankings or what everyone else is predicting.”
While Alabama has dominated at home this year, expect the Bulldogs to play hard on every play, right to the end – unlike the Aggies – as a rout could cost them a playoff spot. Look for this game to be tight with the under (52) being a close play.
(Photo credit: Matthew Tosh (Flickr: DSCF2431) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)
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