Ever since the end of last season, I have heard people complain about the 2008 home slate for Alabama.
I will admit, they have legitimate gripes, with games against Western Kentucky, Arkansas State, and Tulane slated for Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Kentucky also makes that list, as well as Ole Miss (who will be better), and then one game that has grown in luster in the past couple of years: Mississippi State.
I tend to agree with everyone about their complaints—except for one game.
You can call me crazy for what I'm about to say, but Mississippi State is the single most important game at home this season.
That's right: For 2008, this game, as of right now, is more important than Auburn.
Here are three reasons why.
1. This team's recent record against Mississippi State.
2. When this game falls on the schedule.
3. The effect a win over State will have on this team.
OK, let's start with number one.
Alabama starting quarterback John Parker Wilson is 0-2 against Mississippi State.
Yes, you read correctly—that isn't a typo.
The man who is about to hold all the passing records at the University of Alabama has never beaten Mississippi State, along with a bunch of other teams.
To put this "slide" against State in perspective, Alabama is 71-18-3 all-time against Mississippi State. Alabama has only had a three-game losing streak to State twice in the history of this game: 1996-98 and 1912-14.
Senior OL Antoine Caldwell, who has started since his freshman year, has never been the anchor on an Alabama team that scored an offensive touchdown against Mississippi State.
Once again, complete truth there.
It has been 185 minutes and 28 seconds since LeRon McClain caught a four-yard pass from Spencer Pennington in 2004 to cap the 30-14 win over the Bulldogs.
Since then, it has been all field goals and a couple of fumbles and interceptions returned for touchdowns. The offense hasn't crossed the goal line in three games.
OK, on to reason number two.
The game is scheduled for November 15, a week after Alabama visits Baton Rouge and two weeks before the Iron Bowl.
You may not have noticed lately, but Alabama tends to slide in November in recent years. Alabama was 0-4 last year in November and is 3-15 in the month of Thanksgiving since 2003.
Alabama has four games in November this year thanks to how the calendar falls, with the homecoming game against Arkansas State a week before LSU.
Arkansas State should be a win, but LSU in Death Valley is up in the air, even though Bama is 15-3-1 down there since 1979.
Nonetheless, a loss against LSU has been what has sent this team into a tailspin in recent years, and Mississippi State has moved behind the Bayou Bengals on the Tide schedule, making it very easy to kick Bama while they may be down.
So after numbers one and two, here is reason number three.
A win in this game would be huge. Hell, an offensive touchdown in this game would be monumental.
Three games without being able to move across the goal line against a team is downright horrible.
With the offense the Tide has returning, it would be unacceptable if this team couldn't score a touchdown against a Bulldogs defense in a new defensive scheme.
Or maybe the defense just needs to down the ball at the one-yard line on that first interception.
Also, a win would—as bad as this may sound—be a step forward for this team if they beat Mississippi State for the 72nd time in school history this year. It would start to erase the demons of the yearly November slide, as well as show the progress that head coach Nick Saban has made with this team.
Saban has already let the team know that a loss to State is unacceptable, posting the scoreboard from last year's embarrassing 17-12 loss on every player's locker.
Finally, and most importantly, a win over State would have Alabama in a winning mind frame heading into the Iron Bowl for the first time since 2002, the second year of then-head coach Dennis Franchione.
See, it all comes back to Auburn being the most important game anyway.
So when November 15 rolls around, just remember not to take this team lightly. They did win eight games last season and are extremely confident.
Simply put, this isn't your typical Mississippi State football team.
But this Alabama team is not the same Alabama from three years ago.