Crimson Tide look to bounce back in Starkville against Bulldogs
The Alabama Crimson Tide no longer control their own destiny towards another berth in the College Football Playoff. The process of resume enhancement begins Saturday in Starkville against Mississippi State as the Crimson Tide (8-1, 5-1 SEC) will now be at the mercy of the selection committee.
Bama is hoping they can string together impressive wins down the stretch and will also need some help from their peers if they are to continue their streak of making every playoff since the format's inception in 2014. The Bulldogs (4-5, 2-4) snapped a four-game losing streak two weeks ago, hammering helpless Arkansas 54-24. Mississippi State is coming off of a bye and would love to be the team that puts the nail in Bama's playoff coffin. The Tide come to Wade Davis Stadium still processing what happened in their heart-breaking, 46-41 home loss to LSU last Saturday.
Alabama can take solace in this: the Crimson Tide have beaten the Bulldogs 11 straight times. Mississippi State's last win in this series came in Starkville back in 2007.
Alabama at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -17.5
When Alabama Has the Ball
The Crimson Tide faithful will be uneasy, not knowing the status of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Despite a valiant effort in defeat last week against LSU, Tagovailoa was clearly limping as the game progressed and is officially a game-time decision for Saturday's contest, according to head coach Nick Saban. If Tagovailoa does make the start, expect Alabama to score with relative ease, despite Tagovailoa not being 100 percent. This could come in the passing game, as it has all season, but could just as easily happen via the ground. Najee Harris is coming off of a breakout performance last week against the Tigers, putting up 146 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, while adding 44 yards and another score on three receptions.
When Mississippi State Has the Ball
The Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the SEC when it comes to running the ball, as they rank third at 217 rushing yards per game. The ground attack is led by Kylin Hill, the SEC's leading rusher with 1,027 yards and nine touchdowns (second). Expect head coach Joe Moorhead to try and establish Hill to maintain some semblance of balance on offense as Mississippi State has been utilizing two quarterbacks – Tommy Stevens and Garrett Shrader. Shrader has been banged but appears to be healthy enough to play on Saturday. Moorhead shared this week that Shrader had no trouble participating in practice.
Alabama hasn't lost back-to-back regular-season games since 2007, Nick Saban's first in Tuscaloosa, and despite the specter of a letdown following last week's tough loss to LSU lingering, I don't see an upset happening. The Crimson Tide know they need to play flawless football in the final few weeks, including at Auburn for the Iron Bowl in a couple of weeks. First things first and that's silence the cowbells in Starkville. Tua Tagovailoa's uncertain status aside, I expect a re-energized and re-focused Alabama team to show up and pick up a methodical victory on Saturday afternoon.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Mississippi State 17
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.