TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Big games are practically a weekly affair for Nick Saban and Alabama, who have seemingly mastered the accompanying spotlight and pressure.
No. 13 Mississippi State is less accustomed to games like Saturday night's visit to the top-ranked Crimson Tide, where the winner gains the inside track to an SEC West championship and what-ifs could haunt a season.
The Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) are off to their best start since 1999, the only other time the program has opened a season with seven straight wins.
"It's a great opportunity for our guys," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. "We look at this as a championship-caliber game for us. You get into championship games, you've got to be ready to play for four quarters. There's going to be a lot of potential momentum swings back and forth, back and forth.
"You have to weather the storm of the crowd, weather the storm of all the momentum swings."
The Tide (7-0, 4-0) seems to have had a stadium-wide umbrella protecting the team from real trouble. Alabama hasn't really been challenged and only Mississippi State rival Mississippi has been ahead of Saban & Co. — for all of 15 seconds.
That consistent dominance, plus two national champions in three years, convinced oddsmakers that this is a mismatch whatever the records indicate. Alabama is a 24-point favorite and has won the last four meetings by a collective 117-27.
Saban disputes any contention that Mississippi State has been anything but a tough win. The Bulldogs did beat his first Tide team, in 2007.
"They always play tough against us," Saban said. "They don't play OK against us, they play good. We struggled as much against them last year as anybody we played against."
Alabama led only 10-0 going into the fourth quarter of that game a week after a loss to LSU temporarily muted the national title talk. The game ended up 24-7.