It seems one of the Oregon schools has played in the final kickoff game every week so far this season, and I was tired of previewing them – plus, no doubt I will have to do the Ducks again next week at. USC -- so this week it’s Mississippi State-Alabama as the “late” Saturday preview. It’s technically only the third-latest starting game of the day, so forgive me.
So is it possible to overlook a team that is No. 11 in the BCS standings and is unbeaten while playing in the nation’s toughest conference? Obviously Nick Saban wouldn’t let his top-ranked Crimson Tide overlook anyone, but you know some players are foaming at the mouth to play LSU next weekend and ruin the rival Tigers’ national title hopes for the second year in a row.
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Kudos to Coach Dan Mullen for leading MSU to a 7-0 start, as it’s only the second time the school has won its first seven. In fact, the Bulldogs have won nine straight dating to last year. Only the Tide (11) and Oregon (10) have longer streaks. But MSU’s schedule has been a joke so far, No. 119 in the Jeff Sagarin strength of schedule ratings. By comparison, Alabama is No. 26 (No. 1 is Washington).
Here are the teams Mississippi State has beaten so far: Jackson State (maybe that would mean something if Walter Payton were still there), Auburn (completely awful this year), at Troy (score was only 30-24 and the Trojans had nearly every statistical edge but turned the ball over four times), South Alabama, at Kentucky (it’s basketball season!), Tennessee (Derek Dooley incapable of beating ranked teams) and Middle Tennessee last week.
MSU does claim on its official Web site that the Bulldogs have only trailed 16 minutes and 11 seconds this season, the fourth-fewest of any team. By comparison, the Tide have trailed for all of 15 seconds. It should be noted that Bama hasn’t exactly played a killer schedule, either. The only ranked team it beat was Michigan, and the Wolverines just recently got back into the Top 25.
Mississippi State at Alabama Betting Storylines
You never hear much about Alabama’s offense, but quietly Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron has taken over the NCAA lead in QB rating. He is completing 68.8 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns. But most important to Saban: no interceptions. McCarron is currently 7/1 to win the Heisman at Bovada, tied for third with USC’s Matt Barkley behind Kansas State’s Collin Klein (4/7) and West Virginia’s Geno Smith (4/1). McCarron has led the Tide to at least 500 yards of offense in three of the past four games, and Alabama has scored at least 30 points in all seven games, a school record to start the season. That’s almost not fair considering the Tide lead the nation in scoring defense (8.3 points per game).
Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell is no slouch. He has thrown for about 100 more yards than McCarron and has just one fewer touchdown and one more interception. In three SEC games, Russell is completing 62.8 percent for 782 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. The junior is likely to set nearly every single-season school passing record if he stays healthy. The Bulldogs have yet to score less than 27 points in a game so far. And their defense isn’t bad, ranking No. 9 in scoring (14.4 ppg).
To have any chance, the MSU defense will have to force McCarron into mistakes. Problem is, the Bulldogs have just 11 sacks all year and the Tide have allowed only 15. McCarron’s last interception came on Nov. 12, 2011, against Mississippi State; he is on a school-record 239 attempts streak without one. This year’s Tide just don’t turn it over. Alabama has forced 20 and turned them into 112 points. It has given the ball away six times and allowed only three points.
Alabama has won four straight in this series, outscoring MSU 117-27. Last year was the closest of the four, a 24-7 Tide win in Starkville. The Crimson Tide allowed 131 total yards, including just 12 rushing. The Bulldogs averaged 2.2 yards per play.
Mississippi State at Alabama Betting Odds and Trends
At Bovada, the Tide are 24-point favorites with the total at 46. MSU is 5-2 ATS this season and 1-5 “over/under”. Alabama is 4-3 ATS and 4-3 O/U.
MSU is 4-0 in its past four SEC games. It is 2-5 ATS in its past seven overall on the road. The Tide are 7-0 in their past seven October games. But they have covered just one of their past six overall at home. The under is 5-0 in the past five meetings. The home team has covered four of the past five.
College Football Predictions: Mississippi State at Alabama Betting Picks
Other top programs already will be targeting Mullen this offseason (in the SEC alone: Tennessee, Arkansas and possibly Auburn). Should the Bulldogs win this game, Mullen can literally write his own check. But that’s not going to happen. I am really hoping this line moves to 24.5 and probably would hold off to see if it does, but I would lean MSU and the under (love the under!).
There is an interesting prop on Bovada on whether two SEC teams will meet again in the National Championship: “no” -900 and “yes” +500. I see no way it happens. The site also has whether an SEC team with one loss will play for the BCS title: no at -300 and yes at +200. That I could see. Specifically if Alabama loses at LSU next week in a close game (like last year) and then the Tigers lose to either these Bulldogs the following week or at Arkansas to close the regular season. That would still give the Tide a spot in the SEC title game, and a one-loss SEC champion will play for it all (this could include Florida if it loses its regular-season finale vs. Florida State but then wins the SEC title).
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