Arkansas (4-4) at (1) Mississippi State (7-0) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The top-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs will attempt to continue their undefeated run atop the SEC Western Division standings on Saturday afternoon when they host the Arkansas Razorbacks at Davis Wade Stadium.
It's been a tale of two seasons for Arkansas in 2014. On one hand, it has made easy work of its non-conference schedule with four wins in four tries, including last week's 45-17 drudging of UAB, but it has yet to get over the hump in the SEC at 0-4, giving it 16 straight losses in the league dating back to 2012.
"An opportunity to play No. 1 on the road in the evening will be a great opportunity for our guys," Arkansas coach Brett Bielema said. "It's a tremendous task for us but one I think our guys are excited to play in."
Mississippi State's meteoric rise to the top is especially impressive considering it went into its Sept. 20 matchup at LSU unranked, but following a 34-29 win over the Tigers and two more against top-10 opponents Texas A&M (48-31) and Auburn (38-23), it was able to soar to the top spot. The Bulldogs recently took care of business in a tricky road game at Kentucky last Saturday, 45-31, to move to 7-0 and 4-0 in the SEC West, a game up in the loss column over Ole Miss (4-1), Alabama (4-1) and Auburn (3-1).
"I am pleased with last week's game, (but) that game is behind us at this point and we are moving on to a very difficult Arkansas team," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "With the style of defense that they play, they have been very successful against a lot of high potent offense this year...That presents a huge challenge for us this week."
This marks the 25th all-time meeting between the teams, with Arkansas holding a 15-8-1 advantage. The Bulldogs came away victorious last year in Little Rock, 24-17.
The Razorbacks have pieced together an outstanding offensive attack this season (39.1 ppg, 457.9 ypg) behind arguably the most potent running back duo in the nation.
Jonathan Williams (122 carries, 830 yards, 10 TDs) and Alex Collins (118 carries, 747 yards, nine TDs) have split work evenly in the backfield to outstanding results. It was Williams' turn to shine in last week's win with 153 yards and a score on 18 carries, although Collins still found time to get his (15 carries, 82 yards, TD).
Brandon Allen's job under center is easier than most quarterbacks with those two tailbacks on his side. He's done a good job managing the game this season, completing 59.2 percent of his passes for 1,498 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Keon Hatcher (25 receptions, 360 yards, three TDs), Hunter Henry (19 receptions, 253 yards, two TDs) and AJ Derby (16 receptions, 248 yards, three TDs) are all dependable receivers for Allen to rely on.
Defensively, Arkansas has held its own, allowing 25.6 ppg and 353.0 ypg.
Martrell Spaight anchors the unit at linebacker with 72 tackles, nearly twice as many as any of his teammates, to go with 5.0 TFL and an interception. Trey Flowers (7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks) and Darius Philon (8.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) have played well along the defensive line.
Mississippi State's offense is largely to thank for its unbelievable success this season, as it ranks ninth in the country in both scoring (42.3 ppg) and yardage (531.4 ypg) while showing outstanding balance between the run (273.1 ypg) and the pass (258.3 ypg)
"We want to make people defend all 11 guys on the field," Mullen said. "When the running back is putting up big numbers and hitting explosive plays he draws a lot of attention. That takes a lot of pressure and attention off of [Dak] Prescott, which will allow him to make bigger plays. When you talk about having a balanced offense, it is not always just about run and pass. It is about putting guys on the field that they have to defend."
Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott has orchestrated the balanced attack to near flawless results. He's completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 1,694 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions and has rushed for 664 yards and 10 scores. He has four games this season of at least 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards, most in the nation.
Prescott's dynamic playmaking ability has opened up plenty of holes for Josh Robinson, who's turned 121 carries into 887 yards and 10 touchdowns.
While De'Runnya Wilson (20 receptions, 349 yards) has emerged as Prescott's top target, especially in the red zone with six scores, the Bulldogs have no shortage of receiving talent, as 10 different players have caught a touchdown.
If the Bulldogs have a weakness, it's their total defense, which ranks last in the SEC (439.6 ypg), but they play a bend-but-don't-break style, surrendering just 21.6 ppg thanks in part to 17 takeaways.
Benardrick McKinney is the quarterback of the defense and has racked up 45 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Preston Smith is also an outstanding playmaker with 8.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, two interception, two blocked kicks and a forced fumble. Richie Brown, Will Redmond and Jay Hughes also have multiple picks for the ball-hawking unit.
Arkansas hasn't been a pushover this season, despite its poor conference record. It played a tight game against Texas A&M (35-28 in OT) and Alabama (14-13) and has the rushing attack to milk the clock and keep Prescott and company off the field, but the Bulldogs have come through time and again this season, and don't expect anything to change on their home field in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Mississippi State 41, Arkansas 27