TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — College football fans don't have to wait until Alabama-LSU for a showdown of highly ranked, unbeaten SEC West teams.
No. 13 Mississippi State's surprising rise means that matchup comes two weeks early. The Bulldogs visit the top-ranked Crimson Tide Saturday night in the first meeting of two ranked SEC West teams since the BCS championship game in January.
It might lack some of the national appeal of that Nov. 3 rematch in Baton Rouge, but the stakes are awfully high. The winner controls its own destiny in the division and takes a big step toward even bigger ambitions. In Alabama's case, that means staying ahead of the pack.
"At this time of the season, it's kind of like you're running the 100-yard race and now you're getting down to about 70 meters and you've got 30 meters to go," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "And a lot of people are close, right on your heels and you've got to be able to finish the race."
The perception is that Mississippi State (7-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) is at least a few steps behind the Tide (7-0, 4-0), which is favored by 23-1/2 points. This is a chance for the Bulldogs to show they've closed that gap.
They're off to their best start since the 1999 team won its first eight games and Mississippi State didn't even enter the rankings until a month into the season. Alabama has been No. 1 for eight weeks running and has easily dispatched SEC foes Missouri (42-10) and Tennessee (44-13) the past two weeks on the road.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen dismisses any suggestion that this game will be about gaining respect nationally.
"For our guys, to me, the respect issue comes down to our guys respect themselves, they respect each other," Mullen said. "And that's really the only respect you need in a football team.