Why Alabama, LSU Should Not Sleep on Mississippi State

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 27, 2012

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen
Mississippi State head coach Dan MullenSpruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

They aren't a pushover anymore.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen got the monkey off of his back earlier this month when his Bulldogs beat an SEC West team not named "Ole Miss" for the first time since taking the job.

But did the 28-10 win over Auburn signify a shift in the pecking order behind Alabama and LSU in the SEC West?

We will have to see the rest of the season play out a bit before answering that question. What it did do, however, is put the SEC West juggernauts on notice that they shouldn't sleep on Mississippi State anymore.

The reason is simple: Mississippi State can play defense.

Don't be fooled by the fact that they currently rank ninth in the SEC in total defense. That's an anomaly due in large part to the fact that they gave up 572 yards to Troy. That's not to excuse that game, but the inflated number makes it more of a statistical outlier rather than the sign of a trend.

Specifically, the Bulldogs force turnovers and protect the football.

They currently lead the SEC in turnover margin, gaining 3.25 turnovers per game. For the season, the Bulldogs have gained 15 turnovers and only lost two.

That's strong.

For perspective's sake, LSU and Oklahoma State were the top two teams in the country last season in terms of turnover margin, and those two teams finished No. 2 and 3, respectively.

Everyone focuses on Johnthan Banks and his three interceptions, but fellow cornerback Darius Slay is tied for the top spot in the country with four picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

The ability to force turnovers is the great equalizer for any team. LSU and Alabama both protect the football, so something is going to have to give when each of the two SEC West stalwarts face off against the Bulldogs.

Offensively, the Bulldogs aren't world-beaters, but they're smart with the football and capitalize on their opportunities.

Tyler Russell has thrown eight touchdowns and only one pick, while running back LaDarius Perkins has proven that he's not just a changeup running back by averaging 97.25 rushing yards per game.

Mississippi State probably isn't good enough to contend for the SEC West this season, but if it can continue to win the turnover battle on a consistent basis, it can certainly stay in every game. 

If you're in every game, all you need is a couple of breaks to perhaps spring the upset.