Mississippi State or Florida State? That's the new debate atop college football.
After the Bulldogs' thrilling victory over Auburn Saturday that validated their College Football Playoff status and put the bull's-eye on their backs for the rest of 2014, the only question left to ask is whether Dan Mullen's squad has done enough to supplant the reigning national champions as the top team in the land.
The battle between No. 2 and No. 3 was the talk of college football all week. Everyone wondered if the Bulldogs were for real, and whether the Tigers could repeat last year's magic. While Auburn certainly isn't done in 2014, Mississippi State made its case convincingly.
With Florida State taking care of business against Syracuse, the Seminoles and Bulldogs should duel for bragging rights atop the rankings. But as Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman noted, simply being in this position is incredible for Mississippi State:
The Bulldogs looked hungry to run Auburn out of town Saturday just like it did Texas A&M. They took a 21-0 lead in the opening quarter, and all signs pointed to another thrashing of a SEC West heavyweight.
Auburn took the opening punch and gave one right back—largely aided by four straight Bulldog turnovers and a dominant Gus Malzahn run game. The Tigers battled back into it and trimmed the deficit to one possession in the fourth quarter.
But right when Mississippi State's resolve was being tested unlike it has all season long, the Bulldogs responded like champions do. They forced big plays, took the air out of the ball and pounded their way to a 38-23 win.
Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel wondered aloud if Florida State could overcome a lack of quality wins to hold off Mississippi State:
There wasn't any question for ESPN's Paul Finebaum:
Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence challenged Twitter to tell him why the Bulldogs shouldn't be No. 1—a question awfully tough to give a rational answer to:
We're only halfway through the season, so all of these arguments have a few months to work themselves out. But this top-five matchup shook up the current CFP outlook in a huge way, and there should be no doubt after back-to-back top-six wins that the Bulldogs belong as No. 1:
|CFP Outlook After Mississippi State's Win|
|Steven Cook's predictions|
Obviously, Auburn falls out of the CFP for now coming off its first loss of the season. Battling back in this game should be enough to prove that they belong among the nation's elite still, but they made key mistakes when the comeback was very alive.
Indicating Auburn is anywhere near done would be a naive rush to judgment. Should the Tigers run the table against South Carolina, No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 14 Texas A&M and No. 13 Georgia, they would likely be back in a top-four spot heading into the Iron Bowl.
But they may have lost their magic to the SEC West power that snuffed them out Saturday, as ESPN's Skip Bayless says:
Few matchups all season will carry the weight that Saturday's did, with two teams in the top three of the standings going at it. But even Mississippi State—coming off its third consecutive top-10 win—has its work cut out.
But the Bulldogs' next big test might not come until a trip to Alabama on Nov. 15 and the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29. By then, one tight defeat to a national powerhouse could be enough to remain in the mix in the races for both the SEC West and CFP.
Here's a look at both teams' remaining schedules:
|Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC)||Mississippi State (6-0, 3-0)|
|Oct. 25: vs. South Carolina||Oct. 25: at Kentucky|
|Nov. 1: at No. 3 Ole Miss||Nov. 1: vs. Arkansas|
|Nov. 8: vs. No. 14 Texas A&M||Nov. 8: vs. UT Martin|
|Nov. 15: at No. 13 Georgia||Nov. 15: at No. 7 Alabama|
|Nov. 22: vs. Samford||Nov. 22: vs. Vanderbilt|
|Nov. 29: at No. 7 Alabama||Nov. 29: at No. 3 Ole Miss|
What's more, Heisman contender Dak Prescott didn't have his best day through the air. He threw two uncharacteristic interceptions but showed that passing struggles don't impact his ability to make plays with his legs—a scary sight for the rest of the SEC.
Meanwhile, Auburn will have no chance running the table if it turns the ball over like it did Saturday. Four turnovers is a recipe for disaster in any circumstance, much less against the quality foes the Tigers face week in and week out.
Some of the biggest tests for Mississippi State and Auburn are yet to come, but Saturday goes a long way to tell just how serious the national title chances for both teams truly are.