Alabama-Mississippi St. Preview
By MATT BECKER
(AP) -- Although last week's loss in what was billed as the Game of the Century put a dent in Alabama's BCS title hopes, it's ancient history for Nick Saban's team.
The Crimson Tide still have an outside chance at contending for a championship, but those aspirations would certainly be dashed with another defeat.
Fourth-ranked Alabama tries to bounce back from its first loss Saturday night when it visits Mississippi State, which is hoping to avoid a fourth straight defeat in the series.
Most of the college football world turned its attention to Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday night with top-ranked LSU visiting the second-ranked Crimson Tide (8-1, 5-1 SEC) in the 23rd regular-season matchup between the AP's top two teams.
The clash featured two of the nation's top-ranked defenses, and neither allowed its opponent into the end zone. Alabama blew several scoring opportunities, however, missing four field goals and throwing an interception at the goal line in the fourth quarter before falling 9-6 in overtime.
"We can't let it affect us or it will turn into another loss," safety Robert Lester said. "We just have to look past it and focus on what we have to do."
The loss gave the Tigers the inside track to the title game, but dropped the Tide just one spot in the BCS standings to No. 3.
A berth in the BCS championship game is not out of the question for Alabama, but it now must win its final three regular-season games and hope for losses from Oklahoma State, Stanford and Boise State - particularly the second-ranked Cowboys.
"You've got to let it go," senior defensive lineman Josh Chapman said. "I mean we are going over to Mississippi State, and they are a great team and they are physical. One thing you don't see about our guys - you don't see a lot of heads down hanging around. Those guys see the Bulldogs. Let's go out there and finish this thing strong."
Alabama defeated then-No. 17 Mississippi State 30-10 last season for its eighth win in 10 meetings. The Tide have outscored the Bulldogs (5-4, 1-4) by an average of 24.3 points in winning three straight since a 17-12 loss in 2007.
Last season's win for Alabama came without Trent Richardson, who was resting a sore knee.
The Heisman Trophy candidate has been instrumental to the Tide's success, leading the SEC with 1,078 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. He finished with 23 carries for 89 yards and five catches for 80 yards against an LSU team that is ranked second in the FBS in rush defense.
He'll now face a Mississippi State team that is eighth in the SEC against the run, allowing an average of 161.2 yards.
Along with Richardson, Alabama's defense has also played a major role in the team's success. The Tide, who held LSU to 239 yards, lead the FBS in total defense (187.0 yards per game), rush defense (56.3 ypg) and scoring defense (7.1 points per game).
For the second straight week, they'll be facing a team that alternates quarterbacks.
Sophomore Tyler Russell and senior Chris Relf take turns under center for Mississippi State, which is coming off a 55-17 win over Tennessee-Martin. Relf has thrown for 1,013 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions, while Russell has passed for 869 yards and seven TDs and four picks.
Both played against Alabama last season, with Relf going 8 for 16 for 70 yards and an interception and Russell completing 4 of 7 passes for 80 yards with a touchdown and interception.
"Tyler has played against (the Tide), Chris Relf has played against them, and they'll be ready to play on Saturday," coach Dan Mullen said.
All four of the Bulldogs' losses this season have come against ranked opponents. They haven't beaten a top-10 team since a 47-35 win over then-No. 3 Florida in 2000, a stretch of 20 consecutive defeats.
"We have to play well," Mullen said. "If we don't play well we're going to be in trouble because (the Crimson Tide) don't make mistakes."
Updated November 8, 2011