There's no doubt that MSU is playing its best football heading into the bye week. A lot of fans are hoping that leads to a strong finish in November, including an upset of Alabama and a win over rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
A 10-2 finish would lead to a top-tier bowl berth, and if a few breaks went the Bulldogs way -- such as Ole Miss and Bama beating LSU -- they might even get back in the hunt for the SEC West crown.
But before any of that becomes relevant, MSU has to take care of its own business and win out. While the odds might not be in their favor (I would put my money on a 9-3 finish) it's a safe bet to say they will be in every game with a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
So what breaks need to go the Bulldogs' way to win those close games and finish 4-0 down the stretch? Here are three keys that stand out.
Dak has to play like he played against Kentucky
It's hard to ask Dak Prescott to put up 465 yards and six touchdowns week after week, but it will take those type of Heisman performances from #15 if the Bulldogs have a chance to win out. He'll also have to keep producing on the ground to make up for lackluster performances from the running backs. When Dak is utilizing his full game and not just staying in the pocket, the whole offense opens up.
He doesn't have to play phenomenal against Missouri or Arkansas to lead State to W's, but he does need to find success running it with both of those games coming on the road, and especially against Missouri's stout defense. The biggest key to his success against Bama and Ole Miss will be protecting the football, which he has done extremely well so far (only one interception). He threw three interceptions that killed the offense's momentum in a 25-20 loss to Alabama last season.
The bad versions of Alabama and Ole Miss need to show up
I don't know if there's been two teams in the SEC harder to figure out than Bama or Ole Miss. The Rebels jumped out to a red-hot start after taking down Bama on the road. Then the wheels appeared to be coming off after a blowout loss to Florida and a non-conference loss to Memphis. Not surprisingly, the Rebs bounced back and knocked off A&M.
In similar fashion, Alabama looked dominant in big wins over Georgia and Texas A&M, but struggled against Ole Miss and in victories over Arkansas and Tennessee. All three of those games came at home.
I'm not saying Bama and Ole Miss have to play their worst game for MSU to have a chance. But depending on whether the good or bad version of each shows up in Starkville, it will certainly make a difference. Will we see the Ole Miss defense that shuts opponents down or the one that can't get off the field on third down? Will we see the offense that can put up points in a hurry or the one that can't run the ball or block to save their lives?
The safe bet is that MSU goes 1-1 in these games, but 2-0 is not all that unlikely if you think about it, especially with MSU holding the home field advantage in each game.
The defense has to remain stout in the red zone
You have to be satisfied with the job Manny Diaz has done in his first year back with the program, especially at the most important aspect of coaching defense -- keeping teams out of the end zone. Diaz's defense still ranks first in the league in red zone touchdown conversions. He gives up some yards especially early in games, but he knows how to adjust and tighten up when it matters most.
The defense may be the biggest key to winning out. With two road contests and matchups against Ole Miss and Bama offenses that are really solid when clicking on all cylinders, Diaz's unit has to finish strong. Points may be hard to come by for MSU's offense against Missouri, Bama, and Ole Miss. All three of those games could be ugly, defensive struggles. Remain stout in the red zone, and MSU will be in position to win every game.