- Tua Tagovailoa is the quarterback most fans will think about when considering this matchup. But savvy bettors should consider what Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald brings to the table.
Mississippi State Bulldogs at Alabama Crimson Tide (-24)
Sat. 11/10, 3:30 p.m. ET
Three things you need to know before betting on Mississippi State-Alabama:
1. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald lacks the consistency of a Heisman Trophy candidate, and he can look downright pedestrian as a passer—he failed to throw for over 100 yards in a three-game stretch this season. But he should still give Alabama pause. A dual-threat signal caller, Fitzgerald has rushed for 839 yards this season, including 195 against Auburn and 131 at LSU. Alabama hasn't lost many times over the last 10 years, but when it has, the defeats usually come against quarterbacks who can run the ball. Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham ran 12 times for 51 yards in the Crimson Tide’s only loss last year; Deshaun Watson and Cardale Jones each ran more than 17 times each in Alabama’s two College Football Playoff losses. Give Johnny Manziel this: he established the blueprint for how to beat Alabama in 2012.
Last year, Fitzgerald ran the ball 21 times for 66 yards against Alabama, in a game the Bulldogs led in the fourth quarter. His versatility won’t permit the Tide’s vaunted defense to simply concentrate on Mississippi State’s backs and receivers, and it will keep this game closer than one might expect.
2. The only negative Alabama took away from its trip to Death Valley was that Tua Tagovailoa tweaked his sprained right knee. While the transcendent quarterback nonetheless ran for a 44-yard touchdown and kept playing without issue, Nick Saban will surely be managing his star accordingly, especially if Alabama holds a late lead.
A full-strength Tagovailoa has been unstoppable to this point, but Mississippi State’s defense stands as good a chance as any to slow him down. The Bulldogs boast the second-ranked scoring defense in the nation (12.3 points per game) and are sixth in the country in yards allowed per game (278.7). Mississippi State has also allowed just three touchdowns over the last five games—against Florida, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. “When you’re heading on the road to play the number one team in the country, you definitely want to have momentum in your favor,” said first-year coach Joe Moorhead.
3. Alabama has won its last 10 games against Mississippi State, but it is just 3-4 against the spread in its last seven meetings. Mississippi State has covered three of its last four games as a double-digit road underdog (and six of its last seven games total). As dominant as Alabama has been this season, it is just 3-3 ATS as a favorite of 24 points or more.
It’s always hard to pick against Alabama after nine wins by at least 22 points. But it's easier to envision Mississippi State being Alabama’s toughest opponent. With Fitzgerald running the show on offense and a strong overall defense, the Bulldogs have what it takes to keep it close in a loss, which against Alabama is a victory all its own.
Pick: Mississippi State +24
Confidence Level: Very High (on a scale of Low/Moderate/High/Very High/Extremely High)