By Brad Locke and Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Every seven days, college football teaches us a little more about its teams, and Week 9 is big for Mississippi State.
Having climbed to No. 13 in the rankings, the Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0 SEC) will assess themselves against top-flight competition for the first time when they visit No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa (7:30, ESPN).
“I can’t speak for the Alabama side of things, but for our guys, they wanted to be in this position and play in this game and expected coming into this season that this is where we would be,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said Sunday afternoon.
“In the fourth year, a lot of these guys have been in this program for a while. They wanted the opportunity to go compete for an SEC championship, and to do so you had to get to this game where we are, and we’ve been able to do that so far.”
Alabama opened as a 24-point favorite, and that could be partly due to the schedule MSU has played. According to USA Today’s Sagarin ratings, MSU’s schedule ranks 119th in the country; Alabama’s ranks 26th.
The combined record of Jackson State, Troy, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee – the Bulldogs’ non-conference opponents – is 14-15.
The combined league mark of the three SEC teams MSU has faced: 0-14.
“We’ve been tested a bunch,” Mullen said. “We’ve had some pretty close games during the season. But, you know, Alabama will be the best team we’ve played so far, but I guess anybody that plays them will say that about them since they’re the best team in the country right now.”
Coming off Saturday night’s 45-3 win over Middle Tennessee, MSU closes with SEC foes who have a combined record of 26-10 and will face ranked opponents the next three weeks – Texas A&M and LSU following this week’s game against Alabama.
After an open date, Ole Miss has five games to win two to gain bowl eligibility. That quest begins Saturday morning against Arkansas in Little Rock.
The Rebels (4-3, 1-2 SEC) face an Arkansas team gaining in confidence and health.
The struggles for the Razorbacks, once mentioned on the fringe of the national championship conversation, have been well-documented.
Four straight losses followed a season-opening win over Jacksonville State, but Arkansas has won two straight as they prepare to meet the Rebels.
The Razorbacks stopped the bleeding with a win at Auburn and a win in Fayetteville against Kentucky.
Earlier this season the Arkansas defense was giving up 510 yards a game. The Razorbacks have trimmed that number to 434.57 yards a game, but that still ranks them No. 89 in America in total defense, No. 13 in the SEC.
Arkansas will add another weapon for quarterback Tyler Wilson this week when it welcomes back tight end Chris Gragg.
While he was out injured, the Razorbacks leaned heavily on Cobi Hamilton among their receivers.
Hamilton is averaging 107.71 receiving yards a game, compared to 36.71 yards a game for his closest teammate in that category.