TIDE, TAKE THREE
• 1. Alabama is 21-1 in October since the 2008 season, with the lone setback occurring in 2010 at South Carolina.
• 2. Amari Cooper's 43 catches for 655 yards comprise the fastest four-game start in SEC history, topping the 36 catches for 642 yards that Florida's Carlos Alvarez had in 1969.
• 3. The Crimson Tide lead the series with Ole Miss 48-9-2.
Football weekends don't get any bigger in the Magnolia State.
In two matchups this Saturday of teams ranked among the top dozen in the nation, No. 11 Ole Miss will host No. 3 Alabama and No. 12 Mississippi State will host No. 6 Texas A&M. Don't go looking for the last time the Rebels and Bulldogs were so highly ranked when hosting such elite outsiders, because there is no such comparison.
"When you're playing teams like Ole Miss on the road, there are a lot of huge challenges," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday in his weekly news conference. "Playing on the road is a challenge in itself with game management, noise and all those kinds of things, but the biggest challenge is going to be their team and the quality of their team and the things they do as a team. Preparation is really, really important in a game like this."
The last time Ole Miss and Mississippi State were in the top 15 and faced top-15 teams was in 1953, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, when they played each other to a 7-7 Egg Bowl deadlock.
Ole Miss has not defeated a top-three team since 1977, when the Rebels stunned eventual national champion Notre Dame 20-13 in Oxford. This season's Rebels have defeated Boise State, Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis each by more than 20 points but struggled through much of last week's 24-3 win over Memphis before pulling away.
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said Saturday night that the Alabama showdown caused distractions last week. ESPN's "College GameDay" is scheduled to be telecast this weekend from the famed Grove.
"Hopefully our team plays its best game of the year, because it will take that against a really superb Alabama team," Freeze said Monday in his weekly news conference. "This game will have the top two defenses in the conference and the No. 2 and No. 4 offenses, so something's got to give at some point. At the end of the day, it's going to be about the players making plays in their individual matchups."
The Crimson Tide, Rebels, Aggies and Bulldogs are a combined 17-0 this season, with Texas A&M remainng undefeated after this past Saturday's 35-28 overtime escape of Arkansas. Had the Razorbacks held on to their 28-14 fourth-quarter lead against the Aggies, all seven SEC West teams likely would be ranked this week.
Another SEC West showdown Saturday has No. 15 LSU visiting No. 5 Auburn.
"I think it's always been this way to some degree," Saban said when asked about the loaded division, "but certainly this year is even more so in terms of the quality of the teams. The teams who can play with consistency and can continue to improve throughout the season are going to be the guys who have the best chance to play with the consistency that you're going to have to play with.
"You certainly have to take them one at a time, and there is a maturity thing to prepare every week for a game, knowing the importance of that game. Tampa Bay got beat 56-to-whatever by the Falcons and came back the next week and beat somebody else."
Ole Miss has lost 10 straight meetings to Alabama since Eli Manning quarterbacked the Rebels to a 43-28 win in 2003. The Crimson Tide have won the past five meetings by double digits, including 33-14 and 25-0 thumpings the past two years in the only Saban vs. Freeze pairings.
That lack of success, however, did not keep Ole Miss senior safety Cody Prewitt from adding some spice to the anticipation.
"We don't really think Bama is as good as they have been," Prewitt told reporters Saturday night, "and we're better than we have been. We're looking forward to getting to the game plan and really nailing down all the tweaks and stuff that we're going to have to put into Bama."
Mississippi State has lost its two meetings against Texas A&M since the Aggies joined the league before the 2012 season. Texas A&M won a 51-41 shootout last season in College Station after rolling 38-13 two years ago in Starkville.
Of course, this year's MSU team has conquered LSU for the first time since 1999.
"This is what the SEC is all about," Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said Monday in a news conference. "It's a huge advantage that we're playing at home."
Saban said starting quarterback Blake Sims has been on a pitch count after injuring his shoulder against Florida but expects him to be fine by Saturday. ... Senior receiver DeAndrew White, who has been seen recently in a walking boot, is expected to practice later in the week. ... Alabama has run 312 plays under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the most in a four-game stretch for the Tide since 2007. ... Saban said Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown will be vying this week for a starting cornerback spot.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.