• 81°

A loss could not be more damaging

With three games to go, the time is now in Alabama’s 2009 football season.

No win is more important than any other. But a loss in any of the three could not be more damaging.

As the third-ranked Crimson Tide – now 9-0 and No. 2 in the BCS standings – prepares to meet Mississippi State (4-5) in Starkville this evening, head coach Nick Saban’s “rarified air” of championship aspirations is becoming increasingly thinner.

Alabama cleared a giant hurdle in stopping LSU last week to clinch the SEC West Division title, and the victory assured the Tide of a rematch with defending national champion Florida in the SEC title game in Atlanta. Alabama is the only SEC West representative to have managed back-to-back trips to the conference championship game, and it will be the Tide’s seventh overall appearance – all have been against the Gators.

Despite an overwhelming series record against Mississippi State – the Tide holds a 72-18-3 edge – the Bulldogs have taken two of the last three from the Tide. Now under first-year head coach Dan Mullen and his version of the spread offense, the Bulldogs offer a potential nightmare trap for Alabama.

Mullen, whose prior coaching stop was as offensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer, has rejuvenated the Bulldogs once-benign offense. That offense, along with a physical defense, has kept Mississippi State in nearly every game this season – the ‘Dogs lost by only four points to LSU and by just 10 to the Gators. Were it not for LSU’s late goal line stand, Mullen’s squad could very well have a winning record.

Anthony Dixon, the league’s second-leading running back (behind ‘Bama’s Mark Ingram) has rushed for over 1,000 yards and is averaging 5.5 yards per carry. With mobile quarterbacks Tyson Lee and Chris Relf sharing the duty, the Bulldogs pose significant problems for Alabama’s stingy defense.

The bye week before the LSU game gave Alabama a much-needed rest, and the Tide responded – especially on offense. Ingram rushed for 144 yards against a rugged Tiger defense, and star wide receiver Julio Jones re-emerged as an offensive weapon in Bama’s offensive resurgence against LSU.

Defensively, Alabama continues to come up big and will need yet another stellar performance in stopping Dixon and the Bulldogs. The Tide will have its hands full against Mississippi State’s highly-diverse attack.

Alabama is looking to avoid an upset, and there should be no damaging loss for the Tide today. In a rugged, physical battle, Bama prevails, 27-10.