October 03, 2014
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin celebrates with quarterback Kenny Hill (7) after their 35-28 overtime win against Arkansas in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez

Viva Starkvegas!

Rarely have there been football games played in Starkville, Mississippi - affectionately dubbed Starkvegas by residents and visitors alike - as big as No. 6 Texas A&M vs. No. 12 Mississippi State.

It's the opening game of a huge doubleheader in the Magnolia State on sort'em out Saturday in the SEC West. But don't dare call Aggies-Bulldogs the undercard.

While ESPN ''College GameDay'' will be about 90 miles up the road in Oxford for No. 3 Alabama against No. 11 Ole Miss, the SEC Network will set up shop with its pregame show in Starkville. If Tim Tebow's in town, it must be huge.

''Everyone around the country gets to see what Starkville, Mississippi, is all about,'' Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said. And maybe hear a cowbell or two. Noisemakers are banned in stadiums by the Southeastern Conference, but don't be surprised if a few Bulldogs fans sneak their beloved clangers through security.

The first of six games matching ranked teams around the country, three in the Southeastern Conference's daunting western division, features two offenses that have been humming.

The Aggies (5-0, 2-0) rank in the top of five nationally in scoring, passing and total offense. First-year starting quarterback Kenny Hill is putting up passing numbers reminiscent of Johnny Manziel with 1,881 yards and 17 TD passes.

''You're going to have to manage the game and manage the tempo of the game,'' Mullen said. ''You know you're going to have to score. They're averaging 51 points per game. If they hit their average, it means we have to score 52. If you hold them just below the average, we'll have to score 50.''

It'll be interesting to see if Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0) tries to slow it down against Texas A&M, which prefers fast ball. The Bulldogs can get up and go, too, and offense hasn't been a problem. Mississippi State has topped 500 total yards in each of its games and has a quarterback who draws comparisons to Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner-turned-TV analyst who Mullen coached at Florida as offensive coordinator.

Dak Prescott has three straight games of at least 200 yards passing and 100 rushing for the Bulldogs.

''Dak Prescott is a great player,'' Aggies defensive end Julien Obioha. ''You watch Mississippi State film and there's a lot of things they're good at and things they're great at, but one thing you see consistently is a quarterback run. We're going to have to study film, pick up tendencies, find something that takes the quarterback run away.''

The last time two top-15 teams played at Davis Wade Stadium was 1986. That didn't work out for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs lost 35-6 to Auburn and didn't win another game that season.

Here are some things to watch for when Texas A&M and Mississippi State kickoff what promises to be the best Saturday of the college football season so far:

SECONDARY IS PRIMARY CONCERN: Mississippi State's defense is big and athletic in the front seven and good at getting into the backfield. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in tackles for loss with 34. The secondary, though, has been leaky. The Bulldogs rank 124th in the nation in pass defense. The Bulldogs' pass rushers, defensive end Preston Smith, defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebacker Benardrick McKinney will need to put plenty of heat on Hill.

YOUNG AGGIES: Texas A&M has already played 14 true freshman, including defensive end Myles Garrett and defensive back Armani Watts. Garrett leads the team in sacks with 5 1-2 and made his first start last week in a victory against Arkansas. The inexperienced players have helped the Aggies field a better and deeper defense than they did last year, though coach Kevin Sumlin said it was the older player who made the difference in last week's overtime victory against Arkansas.

''Based on how we played, the older guys pulled us out of it, the more you look at that video,'' he said. ''The young guys you didn't see have an impact as much as they did at South Carolina; they were a bit overwhelmed. The intensity of that game was pretty high. ''

HEISMAN WATCH: Hill can move around but isn't the improviser Manziel was for the Aggies. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Sumlin's offense creates plenty of mismatches and open receivers for a quarterback content with being a distributor.

Prescott has a little of that Manziel magic in his game, which showed on his weaving 56-yard touchdown run in Mississippi State's victory at LSU.

Both quarterbacks might come away from this game looking Heisman worthy.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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