Despite taking the top spot in the College Football Playoff, AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll rankings, Mississippi State hasn’t proven to everyone that they are the best team in the SEC. The Bulldogs find themselves as heavy underdogs when they visit Alabama in a matchup that could determine one of the four postseason berths.
Neither the oddsmakers nor the betting public seem to have much faith in the No.1 team’s chances over the Crimson Tide. Alabama began the week at 6.5 point favorites at Las Vegas casinos, but Mississippi State is getting 8.5 points just a few days later.
It shouldn't come as much surprise that the Tide are expected to win. Saturday's contest marks the 64th consecutive time that Alabame enter as favorites. Nick Saban's squad would be favored against any team on a neutral field, according to RJ Bell of pregame.com, an online betting site.
The Bulldogs have done about all it can to prove that it deserves to be atop the polls. They have wins against teams that, at the time of their matchups, were ranked No. 2, No.6 and No. 8 in the country. In addition, their nine victories have come by an average of over 20 points. Even if the rest of the country doesn’t believe in Mississippi State, the players are ready to show that they are as good as anyone.
"Guess what? This is a new Bulldog team," running back Josh Robinson said, according to al.com. "It ain't the same Mississippi State that you're used to seeing, and we're just going to have to show you Saturday."
Alabama has dominated their rivalry with Mississippi State since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The head coach lost to the Bulldogs in his inaugural season with the team, but he’s gone on to win six straight games over Mississippi State, all of which have been decided by at least two scores.
In the previous six seasons, though, Mississippi State didn’t have a player like Dak Prescott on their roster. The quarterback has emerged as one of the best players in the nation and could end up being a Heisman Trophy finalist. In addition to his 18 touchdown passes, he has 779 rushing yards and 11 scores on the ground.
Mississippi State’s rushing attack might be the key to them pulling off the upset. They’ve been a dominant running team, ranking 16th in the nation with 254.9 yards per game, including 109.3 yards per contest from Robinson. The Bulldogs face the tough task of moving the ball on the ground against Alabama, whose 89.8 yards per game allowed ranks third in the country.
Even against their toughest opponents, Alabama has maintained their stout run defense. In their loss to Ole Miss, the Rebels only totaled 76 rushing yards on 32 attempts. The Crimson Tide needed overtime to win their last game against LSU, but the Tigers’ strong ground game was limited to 3.3 yards per carry. In the last three years, Mississippi State has rushed for just 112 total yards against Alabama.
The Bulldogs are used to putting up a lot of points, but they might have to win a different kind of game if they expect to beat the Tide. While Mississippi State has scored fewer than 34 points just once this season, Alabama has failed to surrender more than 23 points in a single game. The over/under is 52 points.
A win for Mississippi State would all but guarantee a spot in the SEC Championship Game. It would give every other team in the SEC West at least two losses with two games to play.
PREDICTION: Alabama over Mississippi State, 33-23