1) Alabama comes into every season with expectations of competing for or winning the SEC and a national title. Those hopes will be all but dashed with a loss. Does that add pressure to the Tide?
I actually think a lot pressure is off this team. Most knowledgeable folks didn't expect this particular Tide team to be in the national mix. 10-2, 9-3 sounded about right: There were issues on the offensive line, graduation of a three-year starting QB, questions in the secondary, and a new offensive scheme. Now that we're here -with just three games left, it's still a fun ride, but there is more to lose. Fortunately, the next three games are all at home.
2) What does this Mississippi State team do well that concerns Alabama going into this game?
The biggest concern, scheme-wise, would be if Mississippi State can establish a balance on offense. State's receiving corps are big physical guys. Given our issues at corner with injuries and young guys, the last thing Alabama can afford is to have to respect the pass every down. That frees up Dak to do what he does best: generate huge gains on the ground, and run State's options plays. The Tide will have to shut down one, and I think they opt to limit broken plays and neutralize the QB (much like they did vs. Florida.)
3) Alabama has pulled out some nail biters (Arkansas, LSU) and destroyed others (Texas A&M). What has been the difference in those games?
Not to be glib, but the difference in Alabama's play has come mainly (but not solely) in home-vs-away games. This is a different offense at home, and Blake Sims (as well as the defense) feed off the positive energy at Bryant-Denny. The other issue is that the road games have been just absolutely brutal, mashing games: Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas are tough, physical opponents under the best of circumstances. To play them three out of four weeks, all on the road, is daunting for anyone. And, let's be honest, A&M and Florida aren't the most demanding opponents.
4) Should Mississippi State be more concerned about Sims-Cooper or the unyielding wave of running backs Alabama has? Or, am I just missing it, and the Tide defense should be the real concern for Mississippi State?
Well, that never-ending wave is hardly a wave at the moment. Yeldon is knicked up, as he is want to be at this time every year; Kenyan Drake -probably our best home run threat- is out for the season. This leaves a still-growing Derrick Henry as the primary backup, with Tyren Jones and Altee Tenpenny as the spot-relievers. Obviously, shutting down Sims-Cooper (the nation's #2 WR and #2 QB), have to be the focus for State. This offense, and this offensive line, are designed to go through those guys.
5) What's our final score? How do we get there?
I think we get a close physical half (say, 14-13). Alabama starts fast, and State keeps up for a while, as the game devolves into a sloppy slugfest. The second half, as with many recent State-Bama games, is one of depth and big plays. Alabama takes it 30-13, and controls its destiny.