There is plenty of debate about the second-best team in the nation, but the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide are the unquestioned class of college football. They will continue to roll toward a national championship repeat in their biggest test yet against undefeated SEC foe Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs rank first in turnover margin (+17), and Alabama ranks third. Two great defenses will look to continue nabbing takeaways, but they will be hard to come by against two quarterbacks who have thrown a combined 357 passes and just one interception.
Who will win Saturday night's crucial SEC matchup?
What is going to be Mississippi State's undoing is ultimately a lack of preparation in their previous 2012 competition. While the Crimson Tide haven't exactly had a whale of a schedule, this will be the first time the Bulldogs have faced an opponent that was ranked at any point during the season.
Dan Mullen's team may have an impressive 7-0 record, but a close call at Troy and no signature wins thus far don't bode well for Saturday's matchup.
A heavy reliance on turnovers against weak competition has driven the Bulldogs' season. It's not to take away from what they have accomplished, but that trend doesn't necessarily translate to a team of Alabama's caliber.
QB Tyler Russell has only one interception against 15 touchdowns this year, and is much improved from his sophomore season. But he will be in serious trouble without a running game—a distinct possibility considering the Tide haven't given up more than 80 yards to any opponent.
Still, as a report by Ken Rogers of DothanEagle.com documents, linebacker Nico Johnson and the Alabama defense understand the challenges the Bulldogs' running game presents. They have the SEC's leading rusher in LaDarius Perkins, and a unique scheme to boot:
Their running game is totally different. It goes from downhill football to running counters and play-action here and there. So it’s difficult. Thankfully, we have coach Saban and coach (Kirby) Smart to put us in the best situations to make plays and get after them.
Miss State's rushing attack may be totally different, but none of the different approaches have been particularly successful against Johnson and Co. In Bryant-Denny Stadium, it seems difficult to fathom that it would be any different.
The turnaround that Mullen has made for the Bulldogs program is outstanding. That said, three-time national champion Nick Saban is on the opposite sideline, with superior talent on defense and more size on the field than any team in the country.
The size of Bama's line and the two-headed monster of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon in the backfield—who have combined for 15 rushing TDs—will be the ultimate advantage for the Tide.
As long as Alabama keys in on Perkins and takes him out of the game, Russell will have to use his arm to beat the Tide. He has a slew of experienced receivers at his disposal, led by senior Chad Bumphis. Against the likes of Dee Milliner and the Bama secondary, though, it will be much more difficult to get separation.
These are essentially two very similar teams. Alabama is just slightly better in every way, which will push them to 8-0 and continue their reign atop the college football rankings.