To understand what Dan Mullen must feel like when November arrives, all you have to do is look at the record. During his first six seasons in Starkville, Mullen has gone 10-14 in the final month of the regular season, compared to a 36-17 mark on or before Halloween. The Bulldogs head coach's winning percentage is 260 points lower in November than the rest of the year. His 3-2 November record in 2015 was his first winning record in that month since he began coaching Mississippi State; it almost marked the end of the Bulldogs national title hopes.
The story with Bret Bielema at Arkansas is a little bit different. His teams do seem to get better as the season goes on, but it's something that hasn't always shown up in wins and losses. Bielema's first Arkansas team, in 2013, went 0-4 in November. But after getting destroyed 104-7 by South Carolina and Alabama in the last two games of October, the Hogs would lose by more than 10 points once in November. Arkansas gave Mississippi State and LSU all that the respective opponents could handle. And Bielema pulled off much the same thing in November last year, with a 2-2 record not reflect the improvement on the field, including wins against LSU and Ole Miss.
So far, it is looking like another November for both coaches, with Arkansas picking up the pace and Mississippi State sputtering. The Razorbacks have won both their games in November so far, edging Ole Miss by one point in a wild overtime shootout and rolling LSU by 17 points. Meanwhile, Mississippi State overcame a sluggish first half to beat Missouri, 31-13, and then got clobbered last week by Alabama, 31-6. Part of the story when the two teams meet Saturday is that one man is trying to change how his teams play in November, and the other is simply trying to make sure his team's improvement is reflected in the final score.
1Cleared for takeoff. This is an Arkansas game, so of course it's time to talk about the passing offenses. Really. For all the "Real American Football" talk that Bret Bielema has undertaken, and given the fact that he actually does like to run the ball more than pass it (38.9 rushing attempts to 28.8 passing attempts per game), both the Hogs and Mississippi State can be lethal through the air. Mississippi State ranks second in the SEC in passing yardage per game; Arkansas is third. And it's not just a matter of being prolific. Passer rating? Arkansas is tops in the SEC at 164.09, while Mississippi State comes in two spots behind that at 152.10. Advanced stats? Arkansas is No. 1 in the nation -- yes, the entire NCAA -- in passing S&P+, while Mississippi State ranks 13th in the country and third in the conference.
2On the other hand. But if you play fantasy college football, you might want to go with Dak Prescott over Brandon Allen. Not that either would be a bad choice. Because both of these defenses struggle at times, but Arkansas really struggles against the pass. The Razorbacks are dead last in the SEC in passing defense S&P+, where they rank 112th in the nation, and defensive passing efficiency. They also allow 1.3 more yards per passing attempt than any other team in the conference, yielding 8.5 a throw. Mississippi State has its own issues stopping the pass; while the Bulldogs check in at 33rd nationally in S&P+, that's still good for just ninth in the SEC. They're slightly better than average in more traditional measures, giving up 6.1 yards per pass attempt (sixth in the SEC) and a passer rating of 110.33 (fifth).
Derick E. Hingle -- USA Today Sports
3Oh, yeah, the ground game. The teams do still run the ball. At least, Arkansas does. The Hogs churn out 5.2 yards a run, third in the SEC, and first among teams for which Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb have not played at least one game. Mississippi State is below-average in that department, ranking ninth in the SEC with 4.4 yards an attempt. Again, the advanced stats pretty much bear that out: Arkansas is a Top 10 team nationally in rushing S&P+ and second in the conference, behind Leonard Fournette State University, but Mississippi State is barely a Top 10 team in the conference -- they rank ninth -- and are 48th best nationwide. The rushing defenses are also less than stellar; Arkansas ranks ninth in the SEC in rushing defense S&P+, while Mississippi State is back in 11th.
4Two hot teams. If you put any stock in the idea that teams are hot or get on winning streaks, this is the game for you. Since Oct. 3, when Mississippi State lost to Texas A&M, these two teams have combined for two losses -- both of them to Alabama. For Mississippi State, you could easily point to the schedule; the Bulldogs have faced Troy, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky and Missouri over that time frame; there are a large handful of SEC teams that could probably go 4-0 against that bunch. But Arkansas has taken down Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU -- all on the road -- dating back to the beginning of October.
5Reversing fortunes? Despite being relatively close to one another, Arkansas and Mississippi State played just twice before the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1992. (And the last of those games was in 1939). The Bulldogs went 2-0-1 in the first three games, and for the next 17 seasons it was almost all Arkansas. The Hogs went 15-2, rarely demolishing Mississippi State but almost always winning. But the Bulldogs have won the last three editions of the game. They have never beaten Arkansas in Fayetteville, though only three games in the series have been played there, and none since 2003.
THREE TO WATCH
Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas: Not to belabor the point from above, but Allen has had a great year for Arkansas. He's efficient and doesn't make a lot of dumb mistakes. He generally has a high completion rate, hasn't thrown more than a single interception in a game all season and has only had more interceptions than touchdowns once, against Toledo. Allen has completed 183 of 284 passing attempts for 2,617 yards, 22 touchdowns and six picks.
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas: It's been easy to overlook Collins in a year where Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb have taken the field for at least part of the season, but he's still one of the best running backs in college football. Collins has run for 1,209 yards and 14 touchdowns on 199 carries, for an average of 6.1 yards per attempt. That stat line also means Collins will end 2015 having put together back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. The junior has only missed the 100-yard mark twice this season -- against Toledo (20 carries, 54 yards) and against Alabama (where he only got 12 carries for 26 yards).
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: If it sounds at times like Prescott is a one-man band for the Mississippi State offense, it's because he kind of is. In addition to his success throwing the ball -- 222-of-343 for 2,651 yards, 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions -- Prescott is the also the leading rusher for Mississippi State. (He's run the ball 112 times for 432 yards and seven touchdowns, without removing sacks.) A good day from Prescott doesn't guarantee a win -- he's played well in losses -- but a bad outing almost ensures the Bulldogs won't win.
Matt Bush -- USA Today Sports
To break this one down: We have two solid passing offenses going up against defenses that probably aren't going to be able to do much to stop them. We have one team that can't really run the ball effectively and can't stop the run against a team that can run the ball quite effectively but also can't stop the run very well. The game hinges in part on how much you think Dak Prescott is worth. If the Mississippi State quarterback can have a huge night against that defense, he might be able to make up for the Bulldogs' shortcomings on the ground. Here's guessing Prescott will do just that. Mississippi State 34, Arkansas 30