Alabama Crimson Tide: Chad Bumphis

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The big game is returning to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The last time it was here? Nov. 5 of last year against LSU.

While the 11th-ranked Mississippi Bulldogs don't pose quite the same challenges as the Tigers did in 2011, the danger of a home upset lingers.

[+] EnlargeJohnthan Banks
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisThe Bulldogs were the last to pick off AJ McCarron -- in 2011. Could Johnthan Banks and Co. again thwart the QB's no-INTs streak?
"This is a difficult preparation on both sides of the ball," UA coach Nick Saban said. "Mississippi State's obviously a very good team. Anybody that's undefeated at this point in the season, ranked 11th in the BCS, has obviously earned their stripes."

Alabama hasn't lost to Mississippi State since 2007 and has won five of their last seven meetings. Still, UA cornerback Dee Milliner expects a challenge from the Bulldogs. Despite the lopsided record, he feels it has always been that way.

"It's going to be a competitive game coming in with both teams undefeated," he said. "Mississippi State, they always give us a great game each year, no matter what the record is. Just going to be a tough game. They like to do a lot with running the ball. They’re going to be aggressive. They're just like us. They like to be aggressive with things. It’ll be very competitive."

" Read about five storylines for the game Insider.

Alabama players to watch

1. S Robert Lester: Lester went down late in the game at Tennessee and hasn't looked quite the same this week during practice. How he recovers and competes against Mississippi State will be vital. His importance to the pass and rush defense cannot be understated.

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Recruiting battles: MSU vs. Alabama 

October, 23, 2012
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Alabama and Mississippi State are separated by less than 100 miles, creating a rivalry that dates to 1896. From its inception it’s been a one-sided affair, and it hasn’t been much different on the recruiting trail, especially since Nick Saban arrived.

[+] EnlargeChad Bumphis
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisChad Bumphis signed with Mississippi State over Alabama in 2009.
This year, MSU head coach Dan Mullen is trying to change that with a win over the Crimson Tide on Saturday. Not only would that keep the Bulldogs’ undefeated season intact, it would pay huge dividends in recruiting as well.

Before ESPN 150 defensive tackle Quay Evans chose Mississippi State over Alabama last year, it had been three years since the Bulldogs won a true recruiting battle over its border rival. It came during Mullen’s first week as head coach.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mississippi State is a different team this year. The Bulldogs' 7-0 record speaks to that, their No. 11 ranking in the BCS standings a testament to how far they've come.

The No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide know that. The team they thumped 24-7 in Starkville, Miss., last season was one with flaws. Tyler Russell hadn't yet earned his spot as the starting quarterback. LaDarius Perkins was but a scant change-of-pace tailback, an afterthought behind Vick Ballard. Jonathan Banks was just beginning to make a name for himself as arguably the top cornerback in the country.

The Bulldogs finished the 2011 season in the Music City Bowl, one game above .500.

[+] EnlargeMississippi State's Tyler Russell
Spruce Derden/US PRESSWIRE]Mississippi State's Tyler Russell has shown a lot of poise this season, says Alabama coach Nick Saban.
This season has been much kinder to the Bulldogs, thanks in part to a schedule that ranks 98th in the country based on past opposition. Mississippi State has faced only two winning teams, both from the Sun Belt.

But you can only play the games on your schedule, and Mississippi State has done that well. Perkins leads the SEC with 724 rushing yards, Russell is 26th in the country in passing efficiency and Banks is tied for sixth in the nation with four interceptions.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said he's noticed a change in the Bulldogs, starting with the offense as guided by Russell, one he called the most balanced UA has faced all year.

"Russell's a big, physical, athletic guy who has a really good arm," Saban said. "He can throw the ball down the field. This year he's shown a lot of poise and his experience, in getting the ball out of his hand quickly. They're a much, much better passing team than a year ago when he just played, sort of shared time and played some, started some. There's not really anything he doesn't do well in my opinion."

UA senior linebacker Nico Johnson said the Tide aren't taking the Bulldogs lightly, describing them as the "most complete year they've had since I've been here." He said much of the success traces back to the emergence of their quarterback.

"He's pretty much their leader," Johnson said. "They follow him. When he's rolling, they're rolling. We have to make it less comfortable for all of them."

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Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

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SEC post-spring power rankings

May, 18, 2012
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We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.

2. Alabama: The defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, but coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.

3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), and senior Akeem Auguste coming back after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.

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