Alabama coach Nick Saban will have to wait to celebrate his 69th birthday until after the No. 2 Crimson Tide welcomes Mississippi State to town Saturday for the 105th meeting in this long-running series. The Halloween birthday for one of college football's all-time greatest coaches has always been an interesting moment in the college football season, in particular because it it caps a month Saban has dominated since he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Saban is 48-2 in the month of October as Alabama's coach, including an undefeated record at home. The arrival of Mississippi State also brings another opponent to the table for Saban to extend his record 94-game winning streak against unranked opponents.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, enter the game reeling. They have lost three straight after stunning the country in their opener against LSU. Mike Leach is even talking about "purging" the roster as seven players have been confirmed to leave the program, including star running back Kylin Hill, who has reportedly opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Will Leach pull off another stunner on the road or will Saban get the best of another conference foe? Let's take a closer look at the matchup before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread. Odds via William Hill Sportsbook
Alabama: The loss of Waddle means more responsibility for all of the wide receivers and skill position players in Tuscaloosa, but it brings a particular spotlight to Slade Bolden. The redshirt sophomore from West Monroe High School in Louisiana was a quarterback as a senior, and has contributed in various ways on offense and special teams since joining the Alabama program. Bolden was targeted by Mac Jones seven times against Tennessee, hauling in six catches for 94 yards after stepping up in Waddle's absence. Now that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has had a week to hit reset on the offensive plans without Waddle, Bolden's involvement becomes both a key and an interesting wrinkle to watch. Since Waddle was injured on the opening kickoff, the staff hasn't had the time to rework things with Mac Jones and the new wide receiver lineup. Mississippi State will provide the first chance to really see what the Alabama offense is going to look like moving forward, whether Bolden continues to be a major factor or if the team makes bigger adjustments, like relying more on Najee Harris and the run game.
Mississippi State: Earlier this month, Mike Leach said there are "malcontents" that needed to be "purged" from the team, noting that "we're going to have to check some of our group and figure out who really wants to play here." It was a sharp turn from the enthusiasm that followed a 44-34 win at LSU in Leach's SEC debut, and the fallout since those comments has indicated that the purge is underway. Leach confirmed Wednesday that Tyrell Shavers, Tre Lawson and Jamari Stewart are leaving the team, bringing the total to seven departures in the last two weeks. That count does not include star running back Kylin Hill, who has not been with the team recently and reportedly plans to opt out of the season to prepare for the NFL Draft. This is a team that is undergoing a serious transformation in the thick of SEC play, and Leach himself has said he wouldn't be surprised if more players will decide to follow this wave of departures. With no light weeks against nonconference foes to build out depth or gain some momentum, the grind is going to set in for a team that is clearly in Year 0 mode with its new head coach.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 31 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Bryant-Denny Stadium -- Tuscaloosa, Alabama
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
We've hit that point where I'm going to consider the Tide covering these spreads like a check that arrives in the mail with regularity. Even the absence of Waddle does not steer me off the idea that Alabama is operating at a level above the rest of the SEC. I just don't think there's a number against a team like Mississippi State, with all its woes, that would have me wanting to back the underdog. Pick: Alabama (-31)
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