Both Mississippi schools from the SEC are back on national ESPN broadcasts this week in prominent rivalry battles.
First, Ole Miss hosts Auburn at 11 a.m. The slumping Tigers are 4-point favorites over the Rebels. Ole Miss is ineligible for postseason play this year, meaning every rivalry game should see bowl-level intensity.
Auburn enters as one of the most overrated teams in the nation. Point spreads reflect how you’re “rated.” The Tigers have missed the market by double digits in four of their last five games. The only cover was by 1.5 points as a huge favorite over Arkansas. Otherwise, they lost outright to LSU 22-21 as a 10-point favorite, only beat Southern Miss 24-13 as a 27-point favorite, lost outright to Mississippi State 23-9 as a 3-point favorites, and lost outright to Tennessee 30-24 as a 14-point favorite. Failures of 11, 16, 17, and 20 points, and trending badly!
Instead of competing for a spot in the Final Four of the national championship chase, Auburn may not even finish in the top four of the SEC West Division. The Tigers currently sit in sixth position out of seven teams.
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Though, this could be a good personnel match-up for the road favorite. You regular readers know that Ole Miss hasn’t performed well against physical opponents this season. Explosive quarterback Jordan Ta’amu can light up the stat book and scoreboard vs. soft pass defenses. He’s posted huge numbers vs. Texas Tech (#73 in opponent passer rating), Arkansas (#110), Kent State (#123), Louisiana Monroe (#128), and Southern Illinois (not an FCS team). But, Ta’amu struggled vs. Alabama (#10) and LSU (#14). Auburn enters the week ranked #20, with most of its 2018 woes links to offense rather than defense.
Key to the cover will be whether or not Auburn’s players have thrown in the towel on the season. Last week’s second half collapse vs. unheralded Tennessee was a very bad sign for War Eagle faithful. This Auburn-Ole Miss point spread would have been larger than a touchdown if the game was played a month ago. Probably larger than 10 points. Has the market over-adjusted?
At 6 p.m., Mississippi State enjoys a very favorable schedule spot at LSU. The Bulldogs are coming off a bye week after their upset of Auburn. LSU just shocked then No. 2 Georgia in dominating fashion, after losing a 60-minute war to Florida in the Swamp. Will the Tigers get caught looking ahead to their bye and then the biggest home game of the year Nov. 3 vs. No. 1 Alabama?
Similar storyline here in terms of passing production from the underdog. Mississippi State couldn’t throw the ball in upset losses to Kentucky (currently #8 in opponent passer rating), and Florida (#9). With LSU ranking No. 14, it may take some defensive or special teams points … or field position gifts off turnovers to break through with a cover or upset in Baton Rouge.
Also of note in local college football, Southern Miss is a heavy favorite this week … laying -17.5 points to Texas-San Antonio in Conference USA action. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. The Golden Eagles are 2-0 straight up and ATS as double digit favorites this season, dominating Jackson State and Rice.
Results this past Saturday for Mississippi schools …
▪ Ole Miss (-6) rallied to beat Arkansas, but couldn’t cover the point spread in a 37-33 track meet. The Rebels totaled 611 yards on offense (8.4 yards-per-play), with all five touchdown drives covering 75 yards or more. Another big game for Ta’amu, as the Ole Miss passing line registered 26-35-1-387. But, the Ole Miss defense allowed 476 total yards on 6.8 yards-per-play, a big reason the Rebels had to climb out of a 27-10 hole. That brought Ole Miss to 5-2 overall, one win away from a guaranteed .500 season with Auburn, South Carolina, at Texas A&M, at Vanderbilt, and Mississippi State still ahead. Remember to look at pass defense rankings when handicapping those games!
▪ Southern Miss (+7) lost at North Texas 30-7. Game stats were consistent with Mean Green superiority, but not necessarily a monster blowout. UNT won total yardage 457-367 on a yard-per-play edge of 6.5 to 5.1. A tight 10-7 first half was followed by a 20-0 whitewash through the final two quarters. USM fell to 2-3 for the season, 1-1 in CUSA play.
You already know Mississippi State had a bye. Best of luck to you in college football this weekend. VSiN will return Saturday to discuss the fascinating NFL battle between the rested New Orleans Saints (4-1) and the AFC defensive juggernaut Baltimore Ravens (4-2).