Do not expect a warm welcome from the opposition when quarterback James Franklin returns to the lineup for the Missouri Tigers this week in Oxford, Mississippi. With Mizzou contending for an SEC East Championship and the right to play in the SEC Championship game (with BCS Championship game hopes still alive), this game means more to the conference and to the national landscape than any other this week, including Texas A&M @ LSU. For the Tigers, it could be easy to overlook Ole Miss, a team with three losses, and start getting excited about former Big 12 rival Texas A&M coming to town next week. In this situation, the Rebels are just as formidable an opponent as the Aggies. And if all goes according to the Predictalator, it will not be an enjoyable road trip for the Tigers.
Ole Miss is 7-3 straight-up 6-3 against-the-spread having played the 20th most difficult schedule in FBS to-date. The Rebels, who announced their presence nationally with road wins over Vanderbilt and Texas early, fell off the national map when they lost three consecutive games to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. All three of those teams are in the top nine in our current College Football Power Rankings and two of those wins -- at Auburn and Texas A&M -- were by just one score. Ole Miss currently ranks 14th in our Power Rankings and is in the top 25 in passing game efficiency, running game efficiency and run defense.
The Rebels also have a great blend of experience (17 returning starters from 2012) and youth (the most impactful 2013 freshman class in the SEC), the latter of which has improved throughout the season to help Ole Miss to a four game winning streak. In conjunction with the improvement of young players, the team has also gotten much healthier recently. Star running back Jeff Scott and top recruit Robert Nkemdiche are both back after missing three games due to an injury earlier in the year (both returned to face Troy in a 51-31 win last week).
Missouri is 9-1 straight-up and 7-2 against-the-spread on the season despite playing the 40th ranked overall schedule. Mizzou's only loss came by three points in double OT against South Carolina (when a tying field goal hit the upright). The Tigers currently rank seventh in our Power Rankings and are among the top 25 in all four of our strength-of-schedule-adjusted efficiency categories. They will likely be bringing back senior quarterback James Franklin after he missed the last four games due to a shoulder injury. On the season (playing against the easiest stretch of the team's schedule), Franklin had thrown for 8.1 yards-per-pass, 14 TDs and 3 interceptions on 195 attempts. His backup, Maty Mauk, attempted 120 passes and threw for 7.9 yards-per-pass, ten touchdowns and two interceptions (Franklin ran for 4.5 yards-per-carry and Mauk for 4.4). Do not expect much to change for the Missouri offense with Franklin back in the fold.
Ultimately, this game features two very good teams that are pretty good at just about everything, yet none rank within the top five nationally in anything. Ole Miss is playing at home, is getting better and has the more impactful players coming back from injury. Mizzou, which has the ninth best home field advantage of the last 13 seasons, is going on the road for this SEC clash, which has enough of an impact to change the projected outright winner of this game.
Also, both of these teams rank among the top 40 teams in the nation in plays-per-game and are in the top 25 nationally in yards-per-play. Mizzou has played in seven (of its ten) games with a combined score of greater than 57 points (the total line in this game). Ole Miss has played in six such games. Expect a frenetic style and high scoring shootout.
According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator, Ole Miss wins over Missouri 51 percent of the time and by an average score of 33.4-32.4. As 3 point underdogs winning in an upset, Ole Miss covers the spread 54.9 percent of the time, which would warrant a $26 wager from a normal $50 player. The OVER (57) is actually the strongest play in this game (second strongest of any game this weekend) and covers 60.5 percent of the time, enough to justify an $85 play from a normal $50 player.