Mississippi State faces its toughest annual opponent this weekend when it hosts what should be an agitated Alabama squad coming off its first loss, to Texas A&M.

Mississippi State’s last game was a win over the very team that bested Alabama in the same location and at a similar time of day. Am I suggesting that this means that MSU is better than Alabama? No, I am not. I am suggesting that for the first time since maybe 2017 or earlier, any team in the SEC West could beat any other team in the SEC West and it wouldn’t be that weird.

But if the Bulldogs upset Alabama for just the second time since Nick Saban’s reign, they would control their destiny in the SEC West and arguably be in the driver’s seat for a trip to Atlanta and the SEC title game.

Perhaps even crazier — beating Alabama would essentially eliminate Alabama from the College Football Playoff. This is particularly fascinating when you consider that NC State, a team the Bulldogs beat thoroughly, eliminated Clemson from contention, too.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In the preseason I laid out the best- and worst-case scenarios for Mississippi State football in 2021. I did not include a trip to the SEC Championship and even called a 9-3 season and a trip to the Outback bowl a pipe dream. If MSU beats Alabama, all of you Bulldogs fans deserve to roast me like a summer marshmallow — no doubt.

That being said, I do not think MSU will finish 9-3. With losses to Memphis and LSU and games against Alabama (No. 5), Kentucky (No. 11), Arkansas (No. 17), Auburn and Ole Miss (No. 13) remaining, it seems likely that the Bulldogs will drop at least 3 games.

However, they continue to be one of the weirdest teams in college football.

The Bulldogs are 1-2 against teams that are now unranked; however, they are 2-0 against teams that are now ranked.

Based on our limited data, it seems likely that the Tide can expect the good version of the Bulldogs on Saturday night because, in night games against good opponents, the Bulldogs seem to play as well as they possibly can.

We will preview paths to victory for MSU later in the week, but it’s entirely possible. Based on what we’ve seen from the Tide against Florida and Texas A&M, the Bulldogs will be a much more difficult matchup than Ole Miss was.

For fans, this matchup feels like an enormous moment to buy into the Mike Leach vision, and, frankly, it would just be awesome to beat Alabama.

For the MSU program, there is more at stake than bragging rights. Beating the Tide shows recruits, plenty of whom I would imagine will be visiting Davis Wade during the game, that the Bulldogs should be taken seriously sooner rather than later.

As Mississippians have been arguing for decades, Mississippi could be pound-for-pound one of the best states for high school football in the U.S. For Leach, keeping those players in the state and away from Ole Miss must be a priority.

Indeed, right now, according to ESPN, 5 of the top 7 recruits are committed to schools outside the state of Mississippi (Georgia, Alabama, Miami, Texas, Kentucky).

Between recruits and bragging rights, there’s no doubt this weekend’s night game against Alabama feels like one of the bigger opportunities the program has had since the 2014 Egg Bowl.