By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The pressure to clinch the SEC West now in the past, Alabama's battle with complacency begins tonight.
A letdown at Mississippi State can derail the momentum the Crimson Tide built by winning the first nine games of the season.
Looking back at the series' recent history, the veteran Tide players know better than to dismiss Mississippi State (4-5, 2-3). Losses in two of the last three meetings before last season's win in Tuscaloosa has everyone on alert.
Four of Mississippi State's five losses this year were to ranked opponents, and all were competitive games. That includes a 29-19 loss to Florida that was tight throughout and a 30-26 setback to LSU, which needed a goal-line stand in the closing moments to survive first-year coach Dan Mullen's Bulldogs.
Both games were played in Starkville, where a record crowd is expected to see tonight's game. Temporary seating is being added to meet the demand.
Coming off the high of beating LSU last week to secure a spot in the SEC championship game has been a challenge, Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer said.
"They're a team that probably doesn't get the respect they deserve around the SEC because they had a couple down years," Reamer said of the Bulldogs. "But they've turned it around. They always come in and are very physical, and they always want to upset everybody they play against. And you've seen during the season, they've put up points on good teams.
"You never can sleep on these guys because they are just as good as anyone in this league. They can beat you at any time, and they can come in and ruin our season."
Against LSU on Sept. 26. Mississippi State had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with just over a minute to play, but an incomplete pass and three rushes that netted just 1 yard kept Mullen from recording his first landmark victory at the program he is set on reviving.
A win over the third-ranked Tide would do just that.
"Any time you get a chance to play what I view is the co-No. 1 team in the country, it's a great opportunity for your program," said Mullen, who was the offensive coordinator at the other No. 1, Florida, before leaving for Starkville this season.
The Bulldogs haven't been overpowering statistically. Outside of its rushing attack that ranks third in the SEC and 12th nationally with an average of 219 yards per game, Mullen's first group falls in the bottom half of the league in every other major category.
The Alabama rush defense ranks second nationally and first in the SEC by surrendering just 68 yards on the ground per game, but the Bulldogs no doubt expect to exceed that.
"They're a pretty tough team," Tide noseguard Terrence Cody said. "They put their mind to running the ball, and they run it at you as many times as they can until they find success."