By Tommy Deas
The duel between dual-threat quarterbacks Jalen Hurts of Alabama and Nick Fitzgerald of Mississippi State should fun to watch. Each is the driving force behind his team’s attack, but the Crimson Tide has the edge because it possesses a few more weapons to deploy.
Seems like a different Alabama defender steps up every week. Against LSU, it was Ronnie Harrison with a key interception. The Crimson Tide ranks first in the SEC in rushing, total and scoring defense, but Mississippi State is in the top four in all defensive categories.
Advantage: Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have made 10 of 12 field goal attempts, are decent in the punting game and rank fourth in the SEC in punt returns. Alabama has strong specialists in punter JK Scott and kicker Andy Pappanastos, but hasn’t done much in the return game.
Dan Mullen has transformed Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are a respected program with signature wins under his leadership. Nick Saban, of course, is the apex predator in the college football world. There is no one on his level.
Mississippi State is dangerous enough to pose an upset threat, and the cowbells will be clanging. Alabama needs to keep winning to assure itself of a spot in the SEC Championship Game and a shot at the College Football Playoff.
Alabama 24, Mississippi State 14
This one might be closer than most expect. Mississippi State has a salty defense and a quarterback who can make explosive plays. Alabama is hard-nosed on both sides of the ball, and will have to work to come out with a road victory.
Alabama 35, Mississippi State 10
Despite its recent injury woes on defense, Alabama takes care of business in Starkville. Alabama jumps out to the early lead, and keeps it.
Alabama 28, Mississippi State 24
The Bulldogs failed to impress against UMass last week, but the Crimson Tide should be wary of Mississippi State. Dan Mullen’s team has won its last two conference games by a combined 59 points, and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald should give a depleted Alabama defense everything it can handle.
Alabama 25, Mississippi State 10
The line keeps hovering around 14 so I nudged the margin up to 15. Pretty similar to the Texas A&M and LSU games, except with agriculturally-based noise makers. The funny thing is, I am not sure State has the horses.
Alabama 35, Mississippi State 17
The Bulldogs might be the second best team in the West, but the gap is still large between Alabama and the rest of the field. Look for better play along the line of scrimmage from Alabama’s offense, which will make the day easier for everyone on that side of the ball.
Alabama 27, Mississippi State 10
The Alabama defense endured a physical pounding from LSU, but there is little time to rest with a trip to Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have won four straight after back-to-back losses to Georgia and Auburn, so Alabama cannot afford to play a sloppy game.
Alabama 35, Mississippi State 14
There are a few things for Alabama to be concerned about: key injuries at linebacker, facing a dangerous quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald, and taking on a proven MSU defense on the road. Still, Alabama has too much at stake to have a letdown now.
Alabama 30, Mississippi State 15
The offensive line needs a better outing after being stalemated a week ago. Every eye will be on the Crimson Tide linebackers.
Alabama 38, Mississippi State 13
I’d be worried about Alabama’s linebacker corps, but that group took hits earlier this season and was fine. It will be different without senior Shaun Dion Hamilton out there but good to see who steps up and takes charge. Time to revive the Crimson Tide’s run game, too.
Alabama, 37 Mississippi State 10
Mississippi State typically runs different plays designed to confuse or expose the defense. With Shaun Dion Hamilton and Mack Wilson out, there will be a new team dynamic to adjust to.