College Football's Forgotten Man Can Knock Off Bama
If you were to wind your clock back almost exactly a year to Week 11 of the 2014 college football season, things would look a little different than they do now.
Michigan, who was still very much Harbaughless, was stumbling around with Brady Hoke as their head coach. Whether the Maize and Blue would return to prominence any time soon was in serious doubt.
Future first overall pick Jameis Winston was in the midst of leading Florida State to a 29 game win streak. The quarterback seemingly generated controversy on a week-by-week basis as one of the sport's most polarizing figures.
How about the Buckeyes? The soon-to-be national champions weren't even in the top ten of the college football playoff rankings and Cardale Jones was an unheard-of bench warmer. Well, technically that is still partially true but you get my point.
Yes, college football is a perpetual revolving door of players, coaches, and success. New story lines can emerge in as little as a week's time, let alone an entire year.
One program that has experienced that inevitable shift is Mississippi State, a team that was undefeated and in the driver's seat of the college football playoffs come week 11 of last year. The Bulldogs, who had already defeated three top 10 teams, were facing their toughest opponent of the season on November 15, 2014; the No. 5 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Junior Quarterback Dak Prescott, who at the time was the Heisman favorite, led Mississippi State into Tuscaloosa as the No. 1 team in the country, but the Bulldogs struggled on offense for most of the game and fell to Alabama by a final score of 25-20.
Mississippi State lost again two weeks later to rival Ole Miss. Despite winning their first nine games of 2014, the Bulldogs ended the season losers of three of their last four after falling to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
While Mississippi State has not been a historically prestigious football program, and appearing in a New Year's Six bowl may have been an important step for the overall respect of their program, the Bulldogs must have felt like 2014 could have been even more special if not for their disappointing performance against Alabama that seemed to put the season in a tailspin.
Fast-forward to week 11 of 2015 and Mississippi State isn't exactly in the same position they were last year. While the Bulldogs are a respectable 7-2 on the year and still in the hunt for the SEC West, they lack the magic and the spotlight they had for most of last season and have yet to defeat a team ranked in the top 25. That could all change this Saturday when they take on a team that might bring the disappointments of last season and the struggles of this season full circle. It's Alabama of course, only this time the tables have turned, with the Tide being the playoff contender and Mississippi State playing at home with a shot at making a late run.
If the Bulldogs have any chance of beating the Crimson Tide on Saturday in Starkville it will come down to the arm, and certainly the feet, of their senior leader Prescott, who casual fans of college football may have forgotten. After last season's Heisman campaign fell short in the final month of the season, Prescott has come back in 2015 and played even better despite lack of recognition from the national media. On the year Prescott has thrown for 2,351 yards, with a 66.7 percent completion rate, 18 touchdowns, and incredibly only one interception despite throwing the ball 300 times already. Without an established number one running back, Prescott is also the Bulldogs leading rusher, with 418 yards and seven more touchdowns on the ground. Most of Prescott's stats put him in the top three of the SEC in the various passing categories and he is number five in the country in Total QBR, which measures quarterback performance on all play types, according to ESPN. What makes these stats even more impressive is the fact that Prescott missed all but the first series of the Bulldogs 45-17 over Troy in October when he left the game due to illness.
|Prescott Through Nine Games||Total Yards||Completion %||Total Touchdowns||Interceptions|
There is no denying Prescott's stats are impressive and that he is not only one of the best quarterbacks in the country but one of best players overall. Yet, all that being said, Alabama and Nick Saban make a living out of terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Just as it is year in and year out, the Crimson Tide are statistically one of the best defenses in the country. Alabama is No. 3 in total defense, No. 8 in sacks, and top 25 in most defensive passing numbers including boasting the No. 6 pass efficiency defense. Most would agree Alabama has the best defense in the country in 2015, but, just as it has been in the past under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide might have a weakness that someone like Prescott can exploit.
How have we seen Alabama lose games in the past few seasons? Mobile quarterbacks that can spread out the field and are able to run up-tempo offenses. Alabama thrives when it can force a team to play in a small box and let their front-seven dominate the line of scrimmage. But teams that have gone away from that strategy have had some success. The most striking example of this weakness being exploited is of course what Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M did to Alabama in 2012 and 2013. Auburn has provided Alabama plenty of issues the past few seasons under Guz Malzahn and with Cam Newton back in 2010. Earlier this year Ole Miss gave the Crimson Tide their only loss of the season when quarterback Chad Kelly did damage throwing and running. Going back as far as 2008, Tim Tebow, who is basically a rich man's Prescott, lead Florida past Alabama in the SEC Championship. Current Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen was Florida's offensive coordinator that year by the way.
All of this considered, Saturday's match up in Starkville, (A.K.A. Starkvegas) should be a fun one. If the Bulldogs have any shot at beating an Alabama team that is probably the best team in the country, Dak Prescott will have to play the game of his life. Last season against the Tide, Prescott struggled, throwing three interceptions and failing to move the ball for almost the entire game. For the most part, that game was the cause of the nation's dismissal of Mississippi State and their superstar quarterback. Come Saturday afternoon, prepare to be reacquainted.