Mississippi State is 9-0 for the first time in school history, ranked No. 1 by the AP, Coaches’ and College Football Playoff polls, and sits atop the standings in the toughest division in college football. The Bulldogs are sitting pretty. If anyone can withstand a mid-November loss, it’d be them, right?
Well, have you seen their schedule?
Half of Mississippi State’s slate amounts to nothing more than empty calories: a Baylor-esque non-conference slate of Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin, plus Kentucky and Vanderbilt as cross-over opponents from the SEC East (combined SEC record: 2-11).
That non-divisional slate essentially eliminates Mississippi State’s margin for error, which brings us to Saturday. Beat Alabama, and Mississippi State can and will get in the College Football Playoff with one loss. Beat Ole Miss and lose the SEC title game? No matter, the ‘Dogs are in. Lose to Ole Miss but win the SEC Championship? Ditto. It would take a total meltdown for Mississippi State to beat Alabama and miss the Playoff.
That’s just it, though: Mississippi State has to beat Alabama. A Tide win gives Alabama control of the SEC West, and a win over Auburn puts Alabama in the SEC title game, while simultaneously locking Mississippi State’s best win – Auburn – out of the Top 15 with their third loss of the season, and that’s assuming the Tigers win this Saturday night at Georgia.
Winning the Egg Bowl means Mississippi State’s second-best victory – Ole Miss – would also have three losses. Texas A&M and LSU each have three losses already, and one of those teams is guaranteed a fourth loss when the Tigers visit College Station on Thanksgiving night. Plus, Texas A&M still has to host SEC East leader Missouri, while LSU must pick itself up off the mat to visit due-for-a-breakthrough-any-day-now Arkansas on Saturday.
Given all that, how would you like Mississippi State’s chances against an 11-1 Big 12 champion in Baylor or TCU, a 12-1 Big Ten champion Ohio State and a 12-1 Pac-12 champion in Oregon or Arizona State for the final two Playoff spots?
There’s only one way to completely remove the guesswork and uncertainty from the situation: beat Alabama.