- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here are five things to watch as No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0) travels to Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4):
'Relief syndrome': Alabama coach Nick Saban is guarding against what he called "relief syndrome." After winning an emotional game over LSU this past weekend, how will the top-ranked Crimson Tide respond on the road at Mississippi State? Will complacency become an issue? Saban has said multiple times this week how Mississippi State is better than its record indicates. Of the five losses, he said, all have come against top-20 teams. That's a clever point to make, but the question isn't talent or ability. Alabama has the clear edge in both areas. With the Iron Bowl only a few weeks away, is it possible Alabama gets caught looking ahead?
Two quarterback system: Where Mississippi State can give Alabama trouble is on offense. Jameon Lewis is a threat to score every time he touches the ball at receiver, LaDarious Perkins provides punch between the tackles at running back and the tandem of Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott at quarterback gives offensive coordinator Les Koenning an interesting set of tools to work with. When Russell has protection and he's on, he can hurt you, but when Prescott is on the field, Mississippi State's offense comes to life. His ability to buy time with his feet and pick up yards on the ground provides an added dimension and a spark that's been missing in Starkville for the last few seasons. Prescott is tied for third among FBS quarterbacks with 30 rushes of 10 yards.
Developing a second cornerback: Bradley Sylve isn't 100 percent, according to Saban, so look for Cyrus Jones to get the start at cornerback opposite Deion Belue for the second straight week. Jones struggled early against LSU's impressive tandem of receivers last weekend, but he settled in nicely and gained confidence in the second half, thanks in large part to the front seven's ability to stuff the run and get in Zach Mettenberger's face. Jones likely won't have the same troubles with Mississippi State's receivers, but his progression and development in the games to come will be vital to Alabama's success as a whole on defense.
McCarron writing records: Saturday's win over LSU moved AJ McCarron into first place for passing yards all-time at Alabama. He was already has the most wins (34) and the best winning percentage (.944) in school history, so from here on out it's all about extending the lead. He might not have a high enough profile to compete for the Heisman Trophy, but his numbers are nothing if not impressive, especially over the last two months. McCarron has an FBS-high 90.6 Total QBR since Oct. 1 with a Total QBR of at least 80 in each of his five games during that stretch. Florida State’s Jameis Winston (8 games) and Johnny Manziel (7 games, still active) are the only FBS players with a longer such streak this season.
Win and you're in: Alabama can clinch a share of the SEC West title with a win in Starkville. An outright division title can come one of two ways: Auburn loses to Georgia or Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Either way, recent history says the Tide will do its part as Alabama has won five straight series meetings with Mississippi State, all in convincing fashion. None of those five games have been decided by fewer than 17 points with the average margin of victory a healthy 24.2 points per game.
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