If the College Football Playoff were decided today, Alabama would be the first team out.
While Mississippi State (4-5) is likely expected to drop Saturday’s game, it is on the Crimson Tide to dominate.
What’s on the Line for the Tide?
Already out of a shot at the SEC Championship (unless No. 1 LSU loses to Ole Miss, Arkansas or Texas A&M), the No. 5 Tide must prove that a five-point loss to the top-ranked team in the nation is insignificant compared to the rest of the work the team has done this season.
That means Starkville, Mississippi, is the first stop on Alabama’s playoff committee campaign.
The X-factor in this situation, as was likely attributable to last week’s situation, is Tua Tagovailoa’s health. Once again, the star quarterback is listed as a game-time decision.
Tagovailoa suffered a high-ankle sprain Oct. 19 against Tennessee. Alabama’s QB2 Mac Jones took over to top the Volunteers.
However, the Tide can easily run the offense through the running backs, led by Najee Harris. The largest issue for Alabama moving forward is its defense.
Four freshmen and one sophomore start for the Tide on D. While this may be a testament to how good Nick Saban and Co. are at poaching talent, these guys are young. And young guys, even the best of them, fall victim to making mistakes. The defense allows 18.6 points per game with a mediocre strength of schedule.
Mississippi State is likely not the team to expose the defense. But in dire straits at No. 5, Alabama must keep the score lopsided to prove the team can still run the table in the SEC.
The Deal in Starkville
The Bulldogs are on an 11-game losing streak to Alabama, scoring a touchdown or less in eight of those outings. Mississippi State is arguably in the best possible position for Saturday: a home game coming off a BYE after racking up 640 yards of offense the week before that.
Arkansas is a bad team; The Hogs did not even win all of their paid-for games.
Running up the score on a team like that does not mean the Bulldogs can repeat that performance against the college football team with the biggest chip on its shoulder. But, the quarterback carousel the team has been riding all season could finally come to a stop.
Graduate transfer Tommy Stephens has started more games than freshman Garrett Shrader. Both quarterbacks have dealt with injury this season. Head coach Joe Moorhead has been exercising the two-quarterback option on and off all season. Expect it Saturday. The situation will likely play out in the way that whoever does a better job against Alabama has the best shot at getting Mississippi State bowl eligible before the season’s end.
How to Watch
Kickoff is set for noon on ESPN.