Mississippi State vs. Alabama primer

Ready for another de facto postseason play-in game?

Of course you are. It seems like they happen every week in the SEC, after all.

This Saturday we get a matchup of No. 1 Mississippi State and No. 5 Alabama. The winner, as you'll read later in this post, has the chance to solidify their College Football Playoff dreams.

To get you ready for the showdown between the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide, here's a preview of the game:

Alabama's key to victory: With T.J. Yeldon not 100 percent and Mississippi State's front seven fully capable of limiting Alabama's run game, the offense needs Blake Sims to step up. He can't complete fewer than 50 percent of his passes, as he did last weekend at LSU. But the good news is he'll be back home, and that makes a world of difference. The offensive line that couldn't hear anything in Death Valley should have no trouble getting the checks from their quarterback on Saturday. And even before that happens, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should have an easier time relaying the calls to Sims from the sideline. Sims has the highest Raw QBR in the country in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Everywhere else, he ranks 29th.

Mississippi State's key to victory: Coach Dan Mullen runs a no-huddle style of offense, but he'll have to find a way to control the tempo of the game within that framework. He has a big, bruising running back in Josh Robinson, and he has a powerful running quarterback in Dak Prescott to match. If he's able to successfully utilize the quarterback read-option, which has given Alabama trouble in the past, then the Bulldogs can keep the chains and the clock moving. In turn, it will wear down Alabama's defense and keep Sims, Amari Cooper & Co. off the field so they can't attack the Bulldogs' suspect secondary.

Alabama X factor: It's hard to call the best player on the field an X factor without playing the role of Captain Obvious, so all aboard. No one wearing crimson on Saturday will have a bigger impact on the game than safety Landon Collins. The future high NFL draft will be vital to stopping both facets of Prescott's game: the run and the pass. As the last line of defense, he'll be tested in both respects.

Against the pass, his role is obvious; he can't let receivers get behind him. But when State goes with the read-option, he has to take special care not to be out of place as linebackers will have to cover up both Prescott and Robinson. If one of them breaks free and Collins isn't there to clean up the mess, it could mean a touchdown.

Mississippi State X factor: The secondary has to improve and the tandem of Prescott and Robinson must play well, but it goes beyond that for Mississippi State. For the Bulldogs to keep Alabama honest defensively, their receivers must show up, specifically De'Runnya Wilson and Jameon Lewis.

Wilson, a 6-foot-5 jump ball specialist, and Lewis, a 5-foot-9 speedster, play so well off one another, forcing opponents to defend the short, long and intermediate passing game. But neither has played particularly lately. Lewis has been out recovering from a knee injury, but Mullen says he should be 100 percent for Saturday. Wilson, meanwhile, has no obvious physical ailments but has been without a touchdown in his past three games.

Playoff impact: Who wants to be in the College Football Playoff's top four? That's the question, really. Because if Mississippi State loses, there's a good chance the Bulldogs nosedive from No. 1. After all, you'd be looking at a team with one loss that in the past month struggled to beat unranked Kentucky and Arkansas.

Alabama, on the other hand, would be poised to move from No. 5 to as high as No. 2. The Crimson Tide would be riding a five-game winning streak that includes victories over teams that at the time they faced them ranked No. 21, No. 16 and No. 1 in the country.