TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – No. 1 Alabama just dispatched its biggest division challenger, and now faces its closest rival.
Geographically, at least.
The Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference, No. 1 CFP) hosts no. 18 Mississippi State (6-3, 2-3) Saturday's game to extend a 10-game winning streak over the West Division's rival from about 90 minutes down the road.
Alabama is a 24-1 / 2-point favorite after a 29-0 win over no. 9 LSU in what is presumed to be the biggest regular season test. That win secured a spot against no. 5 Georgia in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1.
Tide players are still finding ways to motivate them even if the team doubles are not exactly numerous.
Irv Smith Jr. said: "They said we have not heard anybody and that our offense and defense were very suspect." "We wanted to go out there and show everybody what we were capable of doing."
Smith's conclusion after the Baton Rouge beatdown: "Offensively and defensively I feel like nobody can stop us in the country."
But the Bulldogs, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, are game to try. Contain Alabama's Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Mississippi State has allowed only nine touchdowns, few in the nation, and ranks second allowing just 12.3 points per game.
The Bulldogs open, though, has only topped 10 points twice in that decade-long losing streak to the Tide, including last year's 31-24 defeat.
Bulldogs coach Joe Moorhead, facing the Tide for the first time, said: "We talk about the term 'Championship Standard' and, quite frankly, this is what we are chasing.
"Alabama is the gold standard in this league. I told the team (Sunday) night, no one falls to the top of the mountain. These guys have worked their way to the right place. It's our job to go out there and try to knock them off. "
Here are some other things to watch in the Mississippi State Alabama game:
The Tide has won 23 consecutive games at home and could match the school record set from 1971-74 at Legion Field and Bryant-Denny.
MISSISSIPPI STATE VS NO. 1:
The Bulldogs have played the No. 1 team in the country eight times, and seven of those games have been against the tide. The other was against Florida in 2009. Mississippi State's lone win against the top team came on Nov. 1, 1980, when the Bulldogs beat Alabama 6-3 in Jackson. The closest Mississippi State has come to knock off. 1 since that game was last season, when Alabama edged the Bulldogs 31-24 in Starkville.
Mississippi State is the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision that has not lost a fumble this year. It's a streak that includes 344 rushing attempts. Fitzgerald has lost a fumble only three times in his career and all three came in 2016. Since then, he's had 458 carries without a lost fumble.
TAGOVAILOA VS. FITZGERALD
They are two very different quarterbacks but both are dangerous. Tagovailoa is one of the nation's top passers with 27 touchdowns and just one interception (coming against LSU). He did run for a 44-yard touchdown in that game despite a gimpy right knee, but mainly plays with his left arm.
Fitzgerald is the SEC's all-time career leader in rushing for a quarterback and ranks second in the league overall with 104.9 yards per game.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said "He's got a great arm and he's a very effective passer when he needs to be." "This guy's got to be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country."
DEFENSIVE LINE STARS
This game will feature some of the SEC's top defensive linemen, from Alabama's Quinnes Williams, Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs to Mississippi State's Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons.
Sweat is second in the league with 9.5 sacks and Buggs is right behind at 9.0. Williams has emerged as one of Tide's biggest stars in his first season as a starter.