STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State has slowly raised its profile as a very good Southeastern Conference team during coach Dan Mullen’s nine-year tenure.
But there’s always been one consistent roadblock: Alabama.
No. 18 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2 SEC, CFP No. 16) gets another chance to beat the top-ranked Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0, CFP No. 2) on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State has lost nine straight to the Tide, including all eight under Mullen.
Alabama didn’t have much trouble with Mississippi State last season, winning 51-3. For the most part, the games haven’t been very close during the Tide’s current winning streak. The Bulldogs will have their hands full again Saturday; Alabama has won eight of its nine games this season by at least two touchdowns, including last week’s 24-10 win over LSU.
Alabama’s defense has remained dominant despite several injuries, especially at linebacker. The Tide lost two more key linebackers – Shaun Dion Hamilton and Mack Wilson – in the LSU game. Hamilton is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury while Wilson is out four to six weeks with a foot injury.
”We get to play them every year. We know them well,” Mullen said. ”They’ve got explosive players all over the field. They’ve got one of the top defenses, if not the best defense, in the country coming at you with a lot of depth, rotating a lot of guys through.”
Mississippi State enters the game on a four-game winning streak. The Bulldogs’ only two losses this season came in September in back-to-back games against Georgia and Auburn.
”We are not going to underestimate Mississippi State,” Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans said. ”Like I have been talking to you, the quarterback is a dual-threat quarterback. He can hurt you in so many different ways and I feel like with a quarterback like that, I am sure he is a great leader on this team. You got to respect it.”
Here are some other things to watch when the top-ranked Tide face No. 18 Mississippi State on Saturday:
RUNNING FITZGERALD: Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald has more than 800 yards rushing this season and has run for at least 100 yards in each of the past four games during the team’s current winning streak. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Fitzgerald has accounted for 68 touchdowns during his career, which is second in school history behind Dak Prescott.
PICK SIX: Mississippi State has returned an interception for a touchdown in each of the past three games. Gerri Green had one against Kentucky, Jamal Peters took one back 90 yards against Texas A&M and J.T. Gray kept the streak going with one vs. UMass last weekend. It’s the first time since 2007 that the Bulldogs have had a pick six in three straight games.
SABAN BEATS STATE: Alabama coach Nick Saban has a 14-1 career record against Mississippi State, including a 9-1 mark while in Tuscaloosa. The only loss was in 2007.
COMFORTABLE AT NO. 1: Saban will be coaching his 60th game at Alabama when the program is the top-ranked team in the AP Top 25. He’s got a 53-6 record as the top-ranked team, which is the most for one coach at one school in college football history. Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden are tied for 2nd with 40 wins each.
GOOD AT EVERYTHING: Alabama doesn’t have many weaknesses. The program is the only one in the country ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense (1st), scoring offense (9th), rushing defense (2nd), rushing offense (9th), total defense (2nd) and total offense (17th). Alabama has trailed for just two minutes and 26 seconds this season, and that was back in the season opener against Florida State.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this story.
For more AP college football coverage: www.collegefootball.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-Top25 .