In their first meeting in over a decade, the two opponents from the infamous "Snow Bowl" meet as division rivals. On the line is a first signature conference win, jump start on third place in the division, as well as a higher seeding for bowl selection.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2000 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. A freak snow storm blew into town, blanketing the field throughout the game. Former Aggie head coach Jackie Sherrill lead his Bulldogs to a come-from-behind, over-time victory over the Aggies 43-41. To commemorate that game, Mississippi State is calling this year's match up "Snow Bowl 2012". They have special all-white uniforms to wear and have even painted their end zones with the Twitter hashtag #SnowBowl12. For the record, the high for Saturday is 81 degrees.
These two head coaches are a little more familiar with each other. While at the University of Houston, Kevin Sumlin took on Dan Mullen's Bulldogs in 2009 and 2010. But don't expect the recent history to give the Aggies a schematic advantage.
"They're (Mississippi State) a different offense, I think. Tyler Russell has really made a difference. He gives them the ability to throw down the field, 2-3 years ago, I don't know if that was the case," said Sumlin. "I don't know how much our playing them a couple, three years ago plays into this game. Except for the fact that half of the staff have been to the hotel we're staying at."
The junior quarterback has been impressive this year, throwing for 1,742 yards with fifteen touchdowns and only two interceptions.
After becoming bowl eligible last week, the Aggies look to continue their flawless road record and get their first victory against a ranked SEC team. Sumlin's squad has played two top 10 teams down the wire already this season, but both of the losses were at Kyle Field. This will be Texas A&M's biggest road test of the season thus far.
"This is our biggest game of the season." Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen said. "One thing we have always stressed is, to put yourself in a position to win championships, you have to win all your home games. Especially in this conference, with how hard it is to win on the road."
Mississippi State enters this weekend ranked 15th in the BCS and tied for second in the SEC West standings. Texas A&M, on the other hand, is one spot behind the Bulldogs in both the BCS and the division standings. The Bulldogs fell from the list of the unbeatens last week when they were easily beaten by the best team in the country 38-7.
The Crimson Tide held the Bulldog offense to 256 total yards, including only 47 on the ground, exactly 100 yards less than their previous low against South Alabama. Nick Saban's defense had success stopping the dangerous Bulldog offense by limiting the man who makes this offense go. 5'10" 190-pound tailback LaDarius Perkins is the SEC's number two leading rushing behind Johnny Manziel with 762 yards with eight touchdowns. If the Aggies are able to contain him, they will be pretty successful on the night.
That's not to say Russell doesn't have playmakers on the outside. Two receivers have accounted for eleven of Russell's fifteen scores through the air. Senior wideout Chad Bumphis is the teams leading receiver with 30 receptions for 486 yards and six touchdowns, while TE Marcus Green is a lethal redzone threat with his five scores on only seventeen receptions.
As in every game this season, the Aggie defense will keep them in the game. The victor will be determined by how well the #26 defense in the country can slow down the #4 offense. While Johnny Manziel is declaring war on the stat sheet, this offense is not above mistakes. Turnovers have plagued this team in recent weeks. In the three games prior to Auburn, the Aggies turned the ball over ten times. The Bulldogs happen to have the two league leaders in interceptions in the same secondary. Cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay each have four picks on the season with Slay taking one back to the house. Sumlin knows exactly what his young quarterback is facing.
"Not only is it a good secondary but it's an experienced secondary. You've got three seniors, a junior and an All-American in Banks," Sumlin added. "When you have cover guys like they do, particularly on the corner, it allows them to be very, very multiple in their attack."
It is worth noting that in their three SEC wins, Mississippi State's opponents are still winless in conference. Auburn, Kentucky, and Tennessee are the three worst teams in the SEC with a combined record of 0-17. This will be the toughest team State will have played at home and the toughest road game for the Aggies. It's an exciting matchup on both sides of the ball that will play a key role in not only the division standings, but the bowl selection process. Snow or no snow.