Published November 1, 2012 - 2:58pm
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#16 Texas A&M (6-2, 3-2) takes their high-octane offense on the road to Starkville to play Dan Mullen’s #15 ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-1, 3-1), in what will likely be the battle of third place in the SEC West. With Arkansas in the tanker, these two teams could emerge as two perennial programs jockeying for that third place slot to contend with Bama and LSU every year, as the Hogs have held that distinction in recent years due to the success under Bobby Petrino.
With a win Saturday, either team can make its move to finish in second place in the division, as the Aggies play Bama next week and MSU plays LSU. Neither team has been eliminated from the divisional race, but they would need Alabama to lose twice. That’s not going to happen.
However, between the two teams, Mississippi State would benefit more with a win.
Dan Mullen seems content in Starkville – not that he’ll stay forever, but he hasn’t really shown any indication of his desire to take another job yet. With that being said, a victory over Texas A&M would further expand the MSU brand into Texas. Recruits around the country are taking note of what Kevin Sumlin is doing with Texas A&M in his first season, especially in Texas. Therefore, with a win, the Bulldogs’ brand will be shown to several recruits who will be watching. It would be big for recruiting purposes to expand the #HailState brand for Mullen and company even further if they can take care of business Saturday.
Secondly, with only a loss to Alabama, MSU still stands a better chance to win the division than the Aggies. With an LSU upset over Alabama, the Tide would have to turn around and play TAMU in back-to-back weeks. Mississippi State still has to play LSU in what will be a very good game next week. Since the Bulldogs have only one conference loss, wins over TAMU and LSU would bolster them to an 11-win season and have a shot at the division, depending on how Alabama plays out.
I would argue that Texas A&M has already exceeded expectations for their inaugural season in the SEC. With three conference victories already under their belt, one could have assumed in August that the Aggies would have one SEC victory up to this point in Ole Miss. Strangely enough, with Arkansas and Auburn both tanking, it spring-boarded the Aggies into a successful season already. Regardless of how the season plays out, this team has exceeded everyone’s expectations.
When it boils right down to it, this game for Mississippi State is about respect, that seven-letter word that no one has given to State yet this season. No one gave it to them at 7-0 and ranked #11 in the country. Hell, talking heads were calling State a fraud at #11. And Alabama went on to do what everyone expected them to do – win going away. But this is a chance for MSU to gain some national respect with a victory over potential Heisman candidate Johnny Manziel and slow down the SEC’s most explosive offense.
Even though LSU and Florida have shown the blueprint for slowing down Manziel and company, teams have to have the players to execute the game plan. I’m not sure the Bulldogs have that on defense, and Tyler Russell has to be ready to make explosive plays in the passing game to score points.
A win for either team would be huge Saturday, but it would be much bigger for Mississippi State.