By Kevin McGuire-
(CBS Local) On Saturday night, the Mississippi State Bulldogs will roll into Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with the nation’s number one ranking and a chance to put a tight grip on the highly competitive SEC West. A program never one to be confused with a storied history full of championship trophies and household names will look to continue this magical ride on the road against a program so full of history, success and tradition that you would have to build a second building to honor it all. Mississippi State is hardly a Cinderella story, but it does carry a rags-to-riches theme as it takes on Alabama, one the true blueblood programs in college football’s past, present and future.
This week’s game of the week is a wonderful contrast of program success. Alabama is the juggernaut with a long history of success, but Mississippi State is looking to make sure this season is not a dream. Some might think Mississippi State has been overachieving, and perhaps they have. Dan Mullen’s program has the SEC’s 12th ranked recruiting class from 2014, 11th ranked in 2013, 9th in 2012 and 10th in 2011. Despite trailing most of the conference on the recruiting trail, here they are sitting atop the SEC with the only undefeated record in the conference. Something is working with getting the most out of the talent Mississippi State is bringing in. This is a tremendous credit to the work Mullen and his staff have done with players far from household names, with quarterback Dak Prescott the likely exception this season.
Alabama is supposed to be here getting ready for this level of match-up. The Crimson Tide has regained a strong footing in college football’s hierarchy since the hiring of Nick Saban. Recruiting, though still competitive, has become easier over time with Alabama a perennial threat in the SEC and a contender for the national championship. While Mississippi State has been routinely in the bottom half of the SEC in recruiting rankings, Alabama has had the top class each year since 2011 and Saban is well on his way to another recruiting national championship. A preseason favorite in the SEC and a leading contender for the College Football Playoff, this rich program is now looking to step back into favorite status after losing on the road at Ole Miss a few weeks back.
At Alabama, this week is business as usual. It is just another game standing in the way of a chance to play for an SEC championship, which is expected annually by fans dressed in crimson. It is why boosters pay millions for Saban’s home. Anything less than a win or a championship is considered a failure. This is true at just about every college football program, but it is taken to another level at Alabama. Ten wins? Not good enough.
At Mississippi State, this week is an opportunity to prove to the college football world their bubble is not easy to pop. Mississippi State has won at LSU. They have handled defending SEC champion Auburn. They are ranked number one in the country, yet they still have something to prove.
A victory at Alabama would leave no more doubt about just how good Mississippi State is.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football.