The last couple of weeks in the SEC has been all about South Carolina and the three game gauntlet they ran against Georgia, LSU, and Florida en route towards a possible SEC Championship.
A 44-13 defeat in The Swamp ended that wonderful notion. But in the midst of the Gamecocks rise in the national headlines, the Mississippi State Bulldogs are making plenty of their own at 7-0 and should be considered somewhat in the race for the SEC West.
Most pundits, ESPN (even Bleacher Report) and beyond have the SEC West as a two horse race: Alabama and LSU. Their game on November 3 in Baton Rouge seems to be the de facto championship game for that division.
However, there's a chance the team coming out of Starkville, Mississippi can be a spoiler to all of that.
The game this Saturday, when the Bulldogs travel to Tuscaloosa has the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide favored by 24 points. Looking at Barrett Sallee's most recent blog on B/R, the experts here have the game pegged at 42-14 and as high as 52-10 in favor of Alabama.
What hurts Mississippi State immediately to many is their lack of a challenging schedule through their seven games. There is truth to that. The combined record of their opponents in 2012 has been 23-30 with victories over struggling SEC teams Auburn, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
But to their credit, the Bulldogs have taken care of their business in those games. They are currently number one in the turnover margin, forcing 21 and losing only 4. They might be giving up 327 yards a game, but they're also only holding the opposition to 14 points a game.
Again, we know against not the stiffest of competition.
On offense, they have the leading rusher in the SEC. LaDarius Perkins is averaging 103 yards a game for the Bulldogs, and in the passing game, coach Dan Mullen has groomed another consistent starter in Tyler Russell (1573 yards, 15 TD, 1 Int).
But again, against not the stiffest of competition. That's the knock they're getting.
Let's switch gears to Alabama. I recently touched on the Crimson Tide's resume so far this season, which generated quite the list of stats from one eager individual. The fact is they are No. 1, but the opponents they have faced through seven games are a combined 24-25.
Better than the competition Mississippi State has faced, but overall nothing that has really been testing for the Crimson Tide.
But to their credit, same as the Bulldogs, Alabama has taken of its business in mighty fine fashion. They're only giving up 58 yards a game and average of only eight points to their opponents (ranked No. 1 in both categories in the NCAA), but they're also scoring 41 themselves.
AJ McCarron has improved upon the national championship campaign he led from the quarterback position last year. He's already matched his touchdown total from 2011 (16), while throwing for 1476 yards.
Running the football, they're averaging 219 yards a game behind Eddie Lacey and TJ Yeldon. Bottom line, the Crimson Tide are still scary as hell to play.
But as much as Alabama's statistical dominance seems to be hurting Mississippi State's chances in the eyes of the public this Saturday, it's also history that appears to be against the Bulldogs.
History. Mississippi State does not have much to fall back on in the SEC over the last decade. In fact, over the last five years they have been 15-25 against conference opponents and haven't had a foothold in the West since the late 90's when they won the SEC in 1998 and went 10-2 in 1999.
Alabama has plenty of history to fall back on, but all they need right now is the fact they have won two of the last three BCS national championships. That's about enough said on that point.
But there is an eery sense of deja vu that takes me back to 2010 when No. 1 Alabama (defending national champions, same as this year) traveled to Columbia to take on No. 19 South Carolina when the Crimson Tide again, on paper, looked to be far superior and ready to run all over Williams-Brice.
35-21 later, South Carolina had its biggest win in school history, bar none.
Now I'm saying it's a guarantee lock the Bulldogs of Mississippi State will do the same this Saturday against the Tide of 2012 and pull off a stunning upset. (They will not have the Gamecocks advantage of playing at home.)
But the fact remains, they have been given zero respect up to this point. Maybe that's deserved since they haven't done much recently. What it does mean, though, is that a win against the top-ranked team in the nation would put the SEC on notice that there is a third hat in the ring for the 2012 conference crown.
And the fact is, they have played very well this season.
Then again, Barrett Sallee and company here and everywhere else might have that final pegged right. Alabama might rip the Bulldogs a new one as they start to enter the harder part of their schedule. Then again, maybe we're being set up for what would be the biggest upset of 2012 so far and a landscape changer for the SEC.
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