The stage is set for a battle of SEC West unbeatens as the top-ranked Crimson Tide will play host to Dan Mullen's Mississippi State Bulldogs on October 27. Alabama is hoping for another BCS Championship this season, but the men in Maroon and White have title dreams of their own.
Here's a look at some of the key match-ups to watch on Saturday night:
Finally, a real test for Alabama's talented young receiver.
Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks is one of the nation's best. He has elite coverage ability and is currently tied for first on the team with four interceptions. If you don't know much about this young man, Eric Adelson recently put together a great article that highlights Banks' accomplishments -- both on and off the field.
If Mississippi State hopes to upset the Tide, Banks and company will need to stop a group of talented receivers led by freshman Amari Cooper. Currently first on the team with five touchdown receptions, Cooper has been making waves since he first arrived in Tuscaloosa. If he wasn't already the focus of the Bulldogs' secondary, his recent 162-yard performance against Tennessee should be enough to garner some serious attention.
If Bama QB A.J. McCarron tries to force the ball into the hands of Amari Cooper, they'll both quickly find out why Johnthan Banks is regarded as one of the best players to ever don a Mississippi State jersey. Cooper will likely find enough space to reel in a grab or two, but I don't expect him to finish the game with more than 60 yards.
A.J. McCarron against the MSU secondary
Already halfway through the season, A.J. McCarron has thrown 16 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. While these may look like stellar individual numbers, McCarron can't take all of the credit -- his offensive line puts in the work up front to ensure he has more than enough time in the pocket.
While MSU has a decent defensive line, the team's real strength lies in their secondary. The Bulldogs are loaded with experienced starters and have managed to snag up a total of 12 interceptions so far this season.
Don't sleep on this kid! With one of the best QB stat lines in Alabama football history, there's no question why he's a legitimate Heisman candidate. Even though Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay are among the best cornerbacks Bama has faced this year, I still like McCarron in this match-up -- he has too many options downfield to be stopped.
LaDarius Perkins against Bama's defense
If the Bulldogs want to have any chance of winning this game, RB LaDarius Perkins is going to need to find a way to put some serious points on the board. Averaging over 100 yards per game, he's currently one of the most underrated players in all of college football. Perkins may not be the biggest back in the world, but he has demonstrated that he isn't afraid of contact and refuses to fall to the turf without a fight.
Bama's defense has been strong against the run up to this point, but they haven't been tested by a player of Perkins' caliber yet.
As talented as LaDarius Perkins may be, I still think the Tide's defense will hold him to less than 100 yards rushing. With monster nose tackle Jesse Williams clogging up the middle, expect the Bulldogs' offense to look for space on the edge. If the MSU receivers can lay down some decent blocks, don't be shocked if Perkins busts loose for a few decent runs.
B.L. King was born and raised in Alabama and is a lifelong supporter of SEC football.
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