Nick Saban and his Alabama players kept saying that being just outside the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings didn't really matter with big games remaining.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide took care of that situation on the field with a 25-20 win over then-No. 1 Mississippi State on Saturday that vaulted them two spots in The Associated Press poll and dropped the Bulldogs three notches. A rise from fifth in the College Football Rankings will surely follow for 'Bama on Tuesday.
Safety Landon Collins thinks the Tide (9-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) made a clear statement in a game when they led by 16 points at halftime and nursed a double-digit lead into the final seconds.
"Let the NCAA and the world know that we are a top competitor," Collins said. "We're playing to our standard. At the end of the day, we're going to be where we need to be."
Even if the playoff system is new, Alabama is accustomed to being in position to play for a national title at this point in the season.
The Bulldogs (9-1, 5-1) aren't out of the four-team playoff chase, either. They outgained Alabama 428-335, but Dak Prescott threw three interceptions in Tide territory.
Prescott put up solid numbers but couldn't get Mississippi State into the end zone before throwing a pair of 4-yard touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the last with 15 seconds remaining.
"I still feel that we're one of the four best teams in the country," he said. "We just played one of the four best teams in the country."
Alabama can secure a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory over No. 16 Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium in two weeks. The Bulldogs still have games against Vanderbilt and No. 8 Mississippi.
After consecutive hard-hitting games against LSU and Mississippi State, the Tide gets a breather leading up to the Western Carolina game. Saban said the team won't practice Monday, a break he often gives his team once or twice a season. Tailback T.J. Yeldon will get some extra time for an ankle injury.
Yeldon scored the Tide's final touchdown on a 7-yard run but didn't appear to be fully healthy.
"Coaches do a great job giving our bodies a little bit of a break, but at the same time as an offense we need to move forward," Alabama center Ryan Kelly said. "We need to get better this week."
Both teams had some success offensively and defensively. Alabama's biggest edge might have been in controlling field position on special teams, where JK Scott buried Mississippi State inside its 20 on five of seven punts.
Also, the Tide didn't commit a turnover and allowed only two touchdowns on the Bulldogs' six trips inside the 20.
"If you look, very simply, the things they did to win: they were plus-three turnover ratio, they won the kicking game by keeping us pinned and they won field position battles all night long," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "In big games, those are really the things that are going to make a difference.
"If we just score touchdowns in the red zone it wouldn't have been a close game. We would've won big, but give them a lot of credit. They made all those plays they needed to do."