Using ESPN’s FPI (Football Power Index) as a guide, No. 12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0) has a 42.3 percent chance to beat No. 6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday.


A juggernaut Texas A&M offense will take on a nasty Mississippi State defense in a battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object Saturday in Starkville.

The matchup between the Aggies offense and the Bulldogs defense will be decided on first downs, and which side is able to win on more first down plays throughout the game. If Mississippi State regularly forces A&M into second-and-long or third-and-long situations, it will make it a lot easier to dictate what the Aggies do on offense.

However, if Texas A&M can routinely put itself in reasonable second and third down situations, it will be able to pick apart the MSU defense with both the run and the pass in the spread offense.

Texas A&M loves to stretch defenses from sideline-to-sideline, and if it can maintain a threat of run and pass alike, it puts opposing defenses into a bind. Does Mississippi State load the box to stop the run and risk leaving vulnerable corners on islands opposite big-play wideouts? Or do the Bulldogs drop most of their defense into coverage and risk leaving the middle of the field open for the Aggies tailbacks to gash them for big gains?

If Mississippi State wins on first downs, it becomes much easier to focus on preventing big plays in the passing game as A&M faces obvious passing situations. Kevin Sumlin’s bunch loves to take control of games with its offense, but if it cannot stay ahead of the chains it will allow the MSU defense to control the matchup, which is a huge leg up for a team whose offenses loves to run the ball and eat clock with long, sustained drives.

Keep an eye on which team has better success on first downs, as it should be a determining factor in Saturday’s game. Texas A&M has picked up the most first downs of anyone in the SEC this season, hence why the win probability is leaning toward the Aggies.