Five storylines: Alabama-Mississippi State

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 1 Alabama returns to Bryant-Denny to host No. 11 Mississippi State on Saturday night. The Tide (7-0, 4-0 SEC) have won four in a row in the series and haven’t lost to the Bulldogs since 2007.

Here's five storylines for the game ...


1. First true test: For the second straight week, Alabama coach Nick Saban had the same line for the media -- "This is the best team we've faced all season." He said the same of Tennessee the week before and the Tide clobbered the Vols 44-13. But when you look closer, the undefeated Bulldogs might just be the UA's biggest challenge, even if Mississippi State got its record by beating only two teams above .500 -- both coming from the Sun Belt. The Bulldogs have a stout defense with two of the best corners in the country, a quarterback coming into his own and a running back/wide receiver combination that challenges any in the league.

2. Defending the run: Truth be told, Alabama hasn't faced a powerful running back yet. Michigan didn't have one. Arkansas had only the shadow of a top-tier back in Knile Davis. Missouri, Tennessee, Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky all lacked a back who could line up in the I-formation and hurt you. Mississippi State does. The Bulldogs' LaDarius Perkins has taken to the starting role well this season, leading the league in rushing yards.

3. Balance on offense: Alabama's numbers on offense are eerily similar -- 1,235 yards passing to 1,303 through the air. The numbers skew to the run slightly, but the fact is that Alabama's offense is its most balanced this season, taking the run when it's there as it did against Missouri, and then taking the pass when teams crowd the box as Tennessee did. No matter what tact Mississippi State takes, the Tide will have an answer.

4. McCarron for Heisman: Trivia time: When was the last time AJ McCarron threw an interception? The Answer: Nov. 12, 2011, against Mississippi State. As McCarron continues to gain traction in the Heisman race, one number could be the key to winning it all -- 0, as in no interceptions thrown all season.

5. Hanging with Mr. Cooper: With each passing week, true freshman Amari Cooper takes on more and more of a role in the offense. His ability to go up for the ball and make yards after the catch was on full display against Tennessee where he set the freshmen receiving yards record. Is he ready to become the go-to guy on offense like Julio Jones was two years ago?