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Mississippi State visits Alabama in battle of unbeatens

A key SEC West matchup is on tap in Tuscaloosa this weekend, as the top-ranked and undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide play host to the 13th-ranked and equally unblemished Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Nick Saban's squad is atop all the national polls, as well as the BCS standings heading into this week. The defending national champions have certainly shown themselves capable of repeating, making light work of all the competition in 2012 thus far. The team moved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the SEC with last weekend's 44-13 blasting of Tennessee in Knoxville.

The Bulldogs have been unbeatable under head coach Dan Mullen in 2012, as MSU has also won all seven of its contests as well. The team is 3-0 in league play and enters off a lopsided non-conference win over Middle Tennessee (45-3). The team is off to its best start since 1999 and has only gone 7-0 to start a season twice in 113 years of football.

This marks the 97th meeting in this series, with Alabama holding a decisive 74-18-3 advantage. The Tide have won four straight in the series and nine of the last 11 meetings overall.

Offensive balance has certainly been a key component of MSU's success thus far. The Bulldogs are averaging an impressive 36.7 ppg, thanks to a steady mix of the run (180.4 ypg) and the pass (236.4 ypg).

Tyler Russell's efficient play under center is another strength of this unit, as the junior has completed just over 60 percent of his passes, for 1,573 yards, with 15 touchdowns against just one interception. Senior wideout Chad Bumphis is the team's top receiving threat, with 29 catches, for 479 yards and six TDs on the season.

MSU's ground attack is in the capable hands of junior tailback LaDarius Perkins, who has already churned out 724 yards on 5.8 yards per carry, with eight TDs.

The Bulldog defense has more than held its own in 2012, ranking ninth nationally in scoring defense (14.4 ppg), 21st in pass defense (188.6 ypg) and 25th in total defense (327.7 ypg). In addition, the defense has recorded 21 takeaways, including 12 interceptions.

Senior cornerbacks Johnthan Banks (33 tackles) and Darius Slay (23 tackles) lead the charge in that regard with four INTs each. Redshirt freshman linebacker Bernardrick McKinney has made an immediate impact with a team-high 55 tackles.

Mullen knows his team has an uphill battle heading into Tuscaloosa.

"It should be a great challenge for us playing a team that does not show many weaknesses. They are very well coached, well-disciplined and filled with talent at every position. They have had a top recruiting class for each of the last four or five years. Everyone on their roster is a four or five star prospect. They get those guys in position to make plays and have a real physical team. They don't make many mistakes and do not turn the ball over. They pound on you and pound on you and wait for you to make a mistake as the game goes on. It should be a great challenge for our guys as we will have to play our best game of the year."

A.J. McCarron is not among the Heisman favorites, but perhaps he should be. The senior signal-caller has made it look easy at times this season and comes into this contest having completed 68.8 percent of his passes, for 1,476 yards and 16 TDs. He has also yet to throw an interception, as Alabama and Louisiana Tech are the only teams in the country without an interception to their credit. The team is also lethal in the red zone, converting 30-of-31 opportunities (23 TDs, 7 FGs) to lead the nation with a 97 percent rating.

Saban has been impressed with his signal-caller.

"AJ has played very well for us. He hasn't turned the ball over. Makes a lot of good choices and decisions, his passing efficiency has been really good. I think AJ has been a really good leader for us, affected the other players on the team and the last couple of weeks I think we have really come together a little better offensively, in terms of consistency and balance."

It certainly takes the pressure off to have a dominant ground attack once again. The Crimson Tide are churning out 219.4 yards per game on 5.3 yards per carry. They are getting great production from Eddie Lacey (570 yards, 5.7 ypc, seven TDs) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (565 yards, 6.8 ypc, six TDs).

As efficient as the offense has been, the Alabama defense is still the side of the football that gets the most attention and rightfully so. The Crimson Tide lead the nation in just about every defensive category, including scoring defense (8.3 ppg), rush defense (58.7 ypg) and total defense (195.6 ypg).

Junior C.J. Mosley has played at an All-American level in the linebacking corps, leading the defense with 58 total tackles, with 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and one fumble recovery. Fellow LBs Trey DePriest and Nico Johnson are a distant second on the team, tied with 30 tackles apiece.