STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Top-ranked Alabama looks indestructible, winning its past seven games by at least three touchdowns.
Mississippi State — a middling team by Southeastern Conference standards — wouldn't seem to be much of a challenge for the Crimson Tide.
But Alabama coach Nick Saban says his program has plenty of respect for the Bulldogs, and he believes they are much better than their 4-5 record indicates.
Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) is coming off an emotional and highly anticipated 38-17 victory over LSU last weekend. Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4) has lost two straight games and has a 14-game losing streak against nationally ranked opponents.
Alabama is trying to continue its march to another SEC championship and a chance at a fourth national title in five seasons.
"I think they're averaging winning every game by 31 points so we'll have our hands full," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "It's a unique opportunity and we're going to enjoy that opportunity, and go out there and play with great effort for sixty minutes and see what we can do."
Mississippi State will have a better chance to keep the game close if quarterback Dak Prescott is healthy. The sophomore is fifth in the SEC with 2,264 yards, but suffered a shoulder injury late in last weekend's loss to Texas A&M.
Mullen has not said if Prescott will be available. The backup is senior Tyler Russell, who has thrown for 468 yards, three touchdowns and an interception this season.
Mississippi State's offense has been effective for most of the season. The Bulldogs are averaging 459.2 yards per game, which would easily be a school record.
"This is a real challenge for our team," Saban said. "It was obviously a very emotional win for us against a very good LSU team. Mississippi State, I think, has probably the best 4-5 team in the country. They've lost five games to Top 20 teams and have played extremely well all year long."
Mississippi State's players and coaches said there is no secret to Alabama's success.
"Alabama's the No. 1 team and they're going to try to grind and pound," Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones said. "We've got to work on technique, staying low and basic fundamentals."
Here are five things to watch as No. 1 Alabama comes to Starkville on Saturday:
CAN'T HAVE A LETDOWN: No. 1 Alabama is coming off an impressive and emotional victory over LSU last weekend. There's little doubt that it will be tough for the Tide to get as excited for a matchup against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will be four-touchdown underdogs on their home field, even though they stayed close with then-No. 11 Texas A&M in a 51-41 last week at College Station.
ANOTHER STREAK: Alabama's A.J. McCarron is good for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is he simply doesn't make many mistakes. The senior comes into the game having thrown 123 straight passes with an interception. It's the third streak of 100-plus passes without an interception in his career. McCarron needs just one more win to tie Jay Barker as the school's all-time leader in career wins.
MISSISSIPPI STATE QB SITUATION: Mississippi State sophomore Dak Prescott continues his breakout season and now ranks fifth in the Southeastern Conference with 2,264 total yards, including 1,542 passing and 722 rushing. But he suffered a shoulder injury late in last week's loss to Texas A&M and Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen hasn't said of Prescott will be available. Prescott's backup is senior Tyler Russell, who has thrown for 468 yards, three touchdowns and an interception this season.
MSU NEEDS BETTER DEFENSE: Mississippi State's defense has been pretty good at times this season, but has struggled when facing top talent. Texas A&M (51 points) and LSU (59 points) had plenty of success against the Bulldogs, especially when they wore down in the second half. Alabama's offense will be a little more conventional than facing A&M's Johnny Manziel, but it's nearly as effective, averaging better than 40 points per game.
CONSISTENT GREATNESS: Alabama coach Nick Saban continues his remarkable run of winning in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide have won 26 of 27 games dating back to 2011 and will be trying to secure a sixth straight 10-win season.
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