Only potentially the SEC West Division title and a spot in the College Football Playoff are on the line Saturday in Tuscaloosa when No. 5 Alabama hosts No. 1 Mississippi State. The total is set at 52 on 5Dimes NCAA football odds.
Biggest Game in MSU History?
This is the first time the two teams have played each other with both ranked in the top five. Alabama has won six straight in the series, all by double digits. MSU has never beaten a ranked Alabama team in Tuscaloosa.
The above rankings are from Tuesday's updated College Football Playoff release, so as things stand now, Alabama would be on the outside looking in for the national semifinals. However, the Tide are +450 second favorites on college football odds to win it all behind Oregon (+375). Mississippi State is tied for fourth at +750 in NCAA betting with Florida State.
Alabama fans might have a gripe that their team was jumped by TCU this week, with the Frogs now fourth. It really doesn't matter. If the Tide win this game, avoid the biggest upset in college football history -- and it probably would be -- next week at home against Western Carolina (although it is a huge "sandwich" game for Bama), beat visiting Auburn in the Iron Bowl and knock off the East Division winner (either Missouri, Georgia or Florida) in the SEC title game, then Alabama will be in the Final Four. A loss Saturday ends all that.
Mississippi State hasn't finished a season unbeaten or won the SEC title since 1941. The Bulldogs might never have a better shot because highly regarded coach Dan Mullen is likely to hear from some powerhouse schools this offseason that have coaching openings. Specifically Florida, where Mullen was a former offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer, and Michigan. It simply has been proven too difficult to have sustained major success at Mississippi State when you have to recruit against and play the Alabamas, LSUs, Auburns, Floridas and Georgias of the world, to just name five in the SEC.
Obviously the Bulldogs control their destiny to win the SEC West and reach the playoff. Just win out. To close the regular season, MSU hosts Vanderbilt next week in a major letdown game and then visits Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. As the only SEC team without a conference loss, it's still possible for MSU to win the SEC West with a loss here: Win out and have Alabama lose to Auburn.
SEC's Top Offense vs. Top Defense
In our Monday preview of this game the line was at 7, and I recommended Alabama for my college football picks. However, that has risen to 8.5 as of this writing on 5Dimes on college football odds. That could change things. The total didn't open until Tuesday night at sportsbooks and has stayed pretty steady at 52.
I hit on the 'under' last week in the Alabama-LSU game as it finished 20-13 in overtime for the Tide. Alabama outgained LSU 315-259, but the Tide held the ball for just 21:44 and needed a terrific last-minute Blake Sims drive to tie the game and send it into overtime. That was a physical affair, as they usually are, and the Tide often struggle the week after playing LSU.
Mississippi State's defense doesn't stack up to Alabama's numbers-wise. The Bulldogs rank 12th in the SEC in total defense, allowing 427.2 yards. Only Vanderbilt and South Carolina are worse. That's largely based on defending the pass as MSU is dead last. It is No. 3 against the run (126.7 ypg), with only Alabama and Florida better.
Offensively, the Bulldogs will be Alabama's toughest test so far (considering Texas A&M is having a down season) and are No. 6 nationally in total offense. The Tide have struggled against mobile quarterbacks who run the read option in the past. Ole Miss' Bo Wallace gave the Tide problems in the Rebels' 23-17 upset win earlier this year. Oklahoma's Trevor Knight had a big game in last season's Sugar Bowl win vs. Alabama. Auburn's Nick Marshall rushed for 99 yards and a score in the 2013 Iron Bowl. And we all know what Johnny Manziel did in two meetings against Nick Saban's defense. Is Prescott as good as those guys? Maybe not, but he has thrown for 2,231 yards and 18 scores while rushing for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns. This offense goes only as far as he does. Mississippi State has 29 rushing touchdowns this season, but Alabama’s defense has allowed only two all season. That leads the nation.
College football pick: 'Under' 52 at 5Dimes. There's not much to gain from last season's result, a 20-7 Alabama win in Starkville the week after the LSU game. For one thing, this MSU team is much better; second, Prescott missed that one with an injury. Mississippi State had just 197 yards, and the game was only that close because the Tide turned it over four times. Still, MSU hasn't seen a defense like this year. The 'under' has hit in 12 of the past 15 meetings at sportsbooks. It's 4-0 in Alabama's past four against teams with a winning record.