(3) Alabama (4-0) at (11) Ole Miss (4-0) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide go into hostile territory on Saturday, as they take on the 11th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in a key SEC Western Division showdown at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are no stranger to national title contention. They are off to a fast start in 2014, solidifying their spot in the top 5 with wins over West Virginia (33-23), Florida Atlantic (41-0), Southern Miss (52-12) and most recently, Florida (42-21) in the team's SEC opener on Sept. 20. Alabama was idle this past week.
Hugh Freeze's Rebels are also sporting a flawless 4-0 mark on the year, including a 1-0 conference record. It marks the first time since 1970 that the team started a year with four straight wins. Ole Miss' meteoric rise up the national rankings is certainly justified, with lopsided wins over Boise State (35-13), Vanderbilt (41-3), Louisiana (56-15) and Memphis (24-3).
Freeze knows what's at stake in this contest.
"Our team will hopefully play well against a superb Alabama team," said Freeze. "We're coming into the game with the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked defenses in the conference and No. 2 and No. 4 ranked total offenses in our conference, so something has to give at some point. At the end of the day, it's about players playing their individual matchups and that's something we'll challenge our kids all week long to prepare themselves to do. It should be a great, great atmosphere, and we're looking forward to the challenge."
Alabama leads the all-time series by a count of 47-9-2 and has won 10 straight meetings, including a 25-0 shutout a year ago in Tuscaloosa. Ole Miss' last victory in the series came back in 2003.
While there is still plenty of talent in the Alabama backfield, the Crimson Tide have flipped the script a little when it comes to moving the football. The squad is much more explosive in the passing game under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin this year, at a hefty 335.8 yards per game (12th nationally).
New signal caller Blake Sims is completing 73.2 percent of his passes thus far, for 1,091 yards and eight TDs and has the luxury of throwing to All- American candidate Amari Cooper.
The 6-1 Cooper has emerged as the top receiver in the country and is distancing himself from the pack each and every week. He is off to the fastest start in SEC history, having already hauled in 43 balls, for 655 yards and five TDs, averaging an eye-popping 163.8 ypg.
The ground game is still getting the job done at a healthy clip of its own, with Alabama averaging 258.5 ypg rushing. Tailbacks Derrick Henry (320 yds, 6.0 ypc, 2 TDs) and T.J. Yeldon (284 yds, 5.0 ypc, 2 TDs) lead the way.
Defensive tenacity is a staple in Tuscaloosa and this season is no different. The Crimson Tide are allowing just 14.0 ppg and show equal disdain for the run (62.0 ypg) and the pass (188.2 ypg) to rank fifth in the country in total defense (250.2 ypg). One area of slight concern could be the lack of big plays thus far. Though stingy, Alabama has only recorded seven sacks and forced four turnovers through four games.
Safety Landon Collins is an All-American candidate in the secondary, leading the Crimson Tide with 32 total tackles, with one of the team's two interceptions. Linebacker Reggie Ragland is a distant second in tackles (19) with one sack and both fumble recoveries, while fellow linebacker Trey DePriest ranks third in stops (17).
The Rebels have the ability to move the ball at will as well, as the team is generating just under 500 yards per game (496.2), while ranking 13th nationally in passing (335.5 ypg)
The team relies heavily on its veteran signal caller and senior Bo Wallace is playing the position as well as anyone in the country, completing 71 percent of his passes thus far, for 1,271 yards with 11 TDs.
While Alabama has one star out wide, Ole Miss utilizes a number of impressive playmakers, headlined by wideouts Laquon Treadwell (20 rec, 307 yds, 3 TDs), Vince Sanders (18 rec, 261 yds, 2 TDs) and Cody Core (17 rec, 277 yds, 4 TDs).
Ole Miss has gotten the job done defensively this season, having allowed just two touchdowns this year, fewest in the nation and gives up just 8.5 ppg (third nationally). The team also leads the country with 2.25 interceptions per game, with nine through the first four games.
Middle linebacker Deterrian Shackelford leads the team with 23 tackles. Cornerback Mike Hilton is a close second with 22 stops. Fellow corner Senquez Golson has just 13 tackles on the year, but leads the team with three INTs.
Saban acknowledges the talent Ole Miss possesses, especially on defense.
"Their defense is really aggressive and very fast, best defensive team we've played all year," said Saban. "This is the best team we have played all year, but their defense is especially quick and runs well, good pressure team up front, they had a ball hawking secondary picked off a lot of passes, some created by pressure and some created by quality of players that they have."
The Rebels will get their chance to show they belong among the SEC elite here. Wallace and company will need to keep pace with Alabama's big play ability. Getting that done is a difficult task indeed.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 31, Ole Miss 24