Coming off their first loss of the season, the no. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide hit the road to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in an SEC rivalry game. Game time is at noon EST on Saturday, November 16 at David Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. Fans can catch all of the action on ESPN.
Oddsmakers have made Alabama 21-point road favorites over MSU. The over/under for the game is set at 63 points. Make sure you check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
Alabama’s season and championship hopes have become complicated by last week’s loss to LSU. To their credit, the Crimson Tide showed plenty of fight after trailing by 20 points at halftime. But the Alabama defense couldn’t get enough stops to complete the comeback, costing the Tide their undefeated record.
Nick Saban’s team is now in an unusual position in which they’re going to need outside help in order to achieve their goals. They’ll need LSU to lose two of their remaining games in order to win the SEC West. Even if they don’t win the SEC title, the Crimson Tide will surely be in the discussion for a spot in the College Football Playoff if they finish the season with one loss. However, it could take some favorable results elsewhere to get them into the top-4. Of course, none of that matters if the Crimson Tide can’t bounce back and beat Mississippi State and Auburn to finish the season.
The Crimson Tide should also consider themselves lucky not to be in Mississippi State’s shoes. The Bulldogs won their last game against Arkansas two weeks ago. However, that win came on the heels of a four-game losing streak. With three games left on the schedule, Joe Moorhead’s team sits at 4-5 overall and just 2-4 in SEC play.
The silver lining is that the Bulldogs have winnable games against Abilene Christian and Ole Miss to finish their season. But barring an upset over Alabama, State will have their back against the wall the final two weeks of the season as the Bulldogs look to extend their bowl streak to 10 years. On the bright side, if Mississippi State can spring the upset over Alabama, they will almost certainly qualify for a bowl game.
Obviously, both of these teams have bigger rivalry games against their in-state foes. However, Alabama and Mississippi State are actually the closest geographically of any two SEC schools. This rivalry also dates back to 1896. In 102 all-time meetings, Alabama has 81 wins over MSU, including 11 in a row. Mississippi State hasn’t knocked off the Tide since 2007, although they typically make life tough for Alabama whenever they visit Starkville.
There isn’t a lot of data available, but I’m going to assume that Nick Saban’s teams have a good history following a loss. He seems like a coach who gets problems straightened out in a hurry. More importantly, there’s little evidence to suggest that Mississippi State can hang with a team like Alabama. I’ll lay down the points and take Alabama to get back on track and cover three touchdowns.
Heading into their 10th games of the season, the Bulldogs haven’t even figured out their quarterback situation. Tommy Stevens and Garrett Shrader have bounced back and forth all season, both having some success but both also having plenty of rough moments. Shrader appeared to be the starter before missing the Arkansas game for health reasons. Now Moorhead is refusing to tip his hand about who will start against Alabama, although it’s possible both will play.
In a way, the Bulldogs could benefit from forcing Alabama to prepare for both quarterbacks. With distinct skillsets, playing both isn’t a bad idea either. However, the key to the MSU offense is running back Kylin Hill. Despite Hill rushing for 384 yards over his past two games, the Bulldogs have struggled to give him running room against top SEC teams this year. Hill had 45 yards rushing or less in losses to Auburn, Tennessee, and LSU, which is a bad sign for the MSU running game against the Alabama defense.
On the other side of the ball, I also have concerns about the Mississippi State defense facing elite competition. The Bulldogs have allowed 37 points per game over their last five games. Even an Arkansas offense that has been a complete disaster this season scored 24 points against them. To be fair, a lot of that came in garbage time, but it’s still a concern heading into a game against the Alabama offense.
Despite losing to LSU last week, the Crimson Tide looked great offensively in the second half once they got rolling. Tua Tagovailoa clearly wasn’t as mobile as usual coming off ankle surgery. However, there was nothing wrong with his arm, as he connected on two touchdown passes longer than 60 yards. Remember, Alabama still has a dynamic set of wide receivers. Plus, the Bulldogs have just 13 sacks in nine games this year, so I don’t think they’ll pressure Tagovailoa the way LSU did.
Admittedly, the early kickoff time worries me a little, but I trust Saban to get his team motivated to play coming off a loss. Even if Alabama falls into an early hole, I don’t think Mississippi State has the talent to keep up with the Crimson Tide for 60 minutes. Sooner or later, the Crimson Tide will impose their will and pull away from the Bulldogs, ultimately covering the 21-point spread.