Preview: Mississippi State at Alabama

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.

"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 gameInsider.

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.

2. QB AJ McCarron: The Heisman watch is officially on, and it's unlike any pressure he has had to deal with in his career. He is saying the right things, and while he might not be focused on it like the media is, rest assured opposing defenses have taken note and will attack him at every opportunity. Alabama always has had a target on its back; now its quarterback has one, too.

3. K Cade Foster: Lost in the blowout victory over Tennessee was one Alabama player who reversed field and struggled for the first time all season. Foster, who had appeared to turn a corner last season, missed both of his field-goal attempts for fewer than 50 yards and sent just 4 of 8 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Can he regain his confidence in time for the Tide's toughest stretch of the season?

Mississippi State players to watch

1. QB Tyler Russell: For the second straight week, the Tide will face a quarterback capable of beating a defense. Russell, who is in his first full season as the Bulldogs' starter, has been efficient and effective under center, tossing 15 touchdowns and 1 interception.

2. CB Johnthan Banks: Speaking of interceptions, Banks might be the man to stop McCarron's streak of games without a pick. The last time McCarron turned over the ball in the air was last season against the Bulldogs. Can Banks and his cohorts in the secondary repeat history?

3. WR Chad Bumphis: He has been a steady force at receiver for Mississippi State, hauling in 29 receptions for 479 yards and 6 touchdowns. No one has been able to match up to Milliner, the Tide's top cornerback, but Bumphis has the chops to put up a fight.

Key matchup

Jesse Williams vs. LaDarius Perkins: He might not get a hand on him, but the job Williams does holding the point at nose guard will be vital in keeping down the Bulldogs' running attack, led by the SEC's rushing leader Perkins. If the Tide can take away Perkins and make Mississippi State one-dimensional, it could spell the end of any chance of an upset.

By the numbers

263.3: Alabama leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (263.3) and yards per rush (5.5) in league games.

27: Tennessee hasn't beaten the No. 1 team in the country since upsetting Bo Jackson and the Auburn Tigers in Neyland Stadium in 1985.

42: The Tide have allowed 42 plays of 10 yards or more, 14 fewer than any other FBS team.