The LSU Tigers have looked mighty impressive in their first two games, but they're going to face a whole new test when they begin SEC play on Thursday night at Mississippi State.
For the Tigers, who currently sit at No. 3 in the AP Poll, Thursday's game will be another chance to add a second early-season trophy win to their resume. If they continue to rack them up, the Tigers are going to be in the mix for the national title.
After its loss to Auburn this weekend, Mississippi State was barely able to stay in the Top 25. Had they gotten a few breaks, though, the Bulldogs could easily be 2-0 heading into this game. They have a chance to make a loud statement and they know it.
Let's take a closer look at what we're going to see.
Where: Davis Wade Stadium
When: Thursday at 8:00 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN and streaming live on ESPN3.com
Listen: 98.1 FM and Sirius 91 for LSU, MSU Radio and Sirius 220 for Mississippi State
Betting Line: LSU by 3.5
This game will be the start of SEC play for LSU. Seeing as how the Tigers have already shown with their win over Oregon that they are good enough to beat any team in the country, that may not seem like that big of a deal. However, as most fans of the conference will tell you, no SEC team is easy to beat. That's something that LSU will have to keep in mind just as much as Mississippi State.
Who Might Not Play for LSU
According to the USA Today, wide receiver Russell Shepard has to sit one more game before he is eligible. He was declared ineligible indefinitely before the season for violating NCAA rules. Also out will be tackle Evan Washington, who has a foot injury.
Linebacker Ryan Baker, on the other hand, will be back out on the field after sitting out against Northwestern State for disciplinary purposes. Punter Brad Wing is also expected to be back.
Who Might Not Play for Mississippi State
According to CBS Sports, left tackle James Carmon's status is still up in the air after he suffered a knee injury against Auburn.
Center Quentin Saulsberry, however, should be good to go despite a knee sprain.
BCS/Top 25 Poll Implications
With one statement win already in its collection, LSU will have another one if it can also dispatch Mississippi State on the road. If they do, the Tigers are going to be as decorated (so to speak) as any team in the land on this young season.
The Bulldogs also have a stake in this game. They need a win in order to stay in the Top 25 and they stand to gain much more if they get it.
If Mississippi State does win, the Bulldogs will get a huge boost in the rankings. LSU, meanwhile, will be lucky to stay in the Top 10 with a loss and its national title hopes would suddenly be in doubt.
What They’re Saying
Tigers backup quarterback Zach Mettenburger got some reps in relief of Jarrett Lee against Northwestern State, and Glenn Guilbeau of the Shreveport Times reported on Sunday that this was Les Miles' plan all along:
"We needed to get our second-team quarterback ready to roll," said Miles.
The reason for this, according to Miles, is because Mettenburger's next cameo may not come in garbage time.
"You just never can tell when you may turn to him and see if we can get a hot hand and go," he said.
Meanwhile, Rick Cleveland of the Clarion Ledger wrote on Sunday that Mississippi State lost a game it should have won against Auburn. You can blame that on all the breaks Mississippi State didn't get on Auburn's "home cooking" if you want, but Cleveland is not so sure.
"I won't go that far. I'll just say the Bulldogs lost a game they should have won," he wrote. "There was plenty of blame to go around, plus plenty of credit. Auburn has really good players, too, and they played hard and well."
No argument there. Still, maybe the Bulldogs are owed some breaks versus LSU? We'll see.
LSU Player to Watch
I kind of want to write "the entire defense" here, but instead I'm going to give sophomore running back Michael Ford some props. He's scored two touchdowns in each of LSU's first two games and already has 168 yards rushing on the young season.
If Ford gets 100 more yards, he'll have as many yards as he had in all of 2010. Maybe he'll get those yards on Thursday night.
Mississippi State Player to Watch
Gotta go with senior quarterback Chris Relf. You may or may not have heard of him referred to as a poor man's Cam Newton, but I think Relf deserves a little more credit than that. He's passed for 397 yards and three touchdowns in two games and has also rushed for 157. He came within inches of a game-tying score against Auburn and you know he's going to be looking to blow off some steam against the country's No. 3 team.
While your eyes should be on Relf, make sure you get a few good looks at senior running back Vick Ballard as well. He already rushed for 301 yards this season, but he now has to go up against an LSU defense that has allowed a grand total of 91 rushing yards. Oregon got 95 of those.
Yes, that means Northwestern State rushed for -4 yards against LSU. Good luck, Mr. Ballard.
On the Hot Seat
Who ya got, LSU or Mississippi State?
Both Miles and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen are safe for the moment, so how about Jarrett Lee? He's looked pretty good playing in place of suspended quarterback Jordan Jefferson, but the fact that Miles is at least considering going with whoever has the hot hand suggests that he's not entirely sold on Lee. A good performance against Mississippi State could change that.
No disrespect to Mississippi State, but LSU is the better team. The Tigers play suffocating defense and the offense has shown that it is at least capable of avoiding mistakes while putting points on the board when it has to.
I do think the Bulldogs are going to be tough to put it away, but I think LSU will get it done.
LSU 28, Mississippi 21