No. 1 Mississippi State has been an afterthought on college football's landscape during the past few weeks, securing ho-hum wins over inferior opponents with regular monotony.
That all changes on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (9-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 CFP) travel to face No. 4 Alabama (8-1, 5-1, No. 5 CFP) in Tuscaloosa in what will be a showdown for Western Division supremacy. The game begins a pivotal three-game stretch, which also includes Vanderbilt and rival Mississippi.
Just minutes after Mississippi State beat Tennessee-Martin 45-16 on Saturday night, the Bulldogs had already switched their focus to the Tide.
"This is what you play for," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "We're in the middle of November, competing for first place in the SEC West, which is what it's all about. That's what you come here for. That's what we want our program to be like."
Mississippi State goes into the Alabama game on a 12-game winning streak that's second in the nation behind Florida State. That's one of many reasons the Bulldogs have plenty of confidence despite losing six straight games in the series dating to 2007.
The Tide is riding high after a come-from-behind, 20-13 overtime win over LSU in Death Valley.
"Playing in big time games in November means you're playing for championships," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "To go to Tuscaloosa being the hunted is a challenge we are willing to take."
Prescott had a good game against Tennessee-Martin, throwing for two touchdowns and running for a 48-yard touchdown before being pulled from the game in the third quarter after the Bulldogs had built a big lead.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior has been dealing with an injured left ankle, but looked healthy against the Skyhawks, scrambling for the long touchdown score and moving in the pocket with ease.
Mississippi State also cleaned up some of its miscues from previous weeks. After eight turnovers over a three-game stretch against Auburn, Kentucky and Arkansas, the first-team offense didn't have any against Tennessee-Martin.
The Bulldogs' offense continues to be nearly unstoppable — they're on pace for single-season program records in both points and total yards. But Mullen is still frustrated with his defense's inability to force three-and-outs and turnovers.
"I give our guys credit, we're finding ways to make plays, we're finding ways to win the game, even though we're doing a lot of things that you can't do to win games," Mullen said.
Mississippi State showed its depth in the win against Tennessee-Martin, which might prove useful in what will likely be a physically taxing game against Alabama. Ashton Shumpert ran for 82 yards and a touchdown while Brandon Holloway had 70 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Freshman Gabe Myles caught a team-high five passes for 54 yards. Junior Joe Morrow — the team's ninth-leading receiver coming into the game — caught a 55-yard touchdown pass.
While the Bulldogs will lean on stars like Prescott, running back Josh Robinson and receiver De'Runnya Wilson against the Tide, the hope is Alabama will have to be mindful of everyone on the field.
"We don't want teams to fear one of us," Morrow said. "We want them to fear all of us."
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