THE BLOG
11/26/2014 08:53 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2015

Game of the Week: Mississippi State at Ole Miss

Stacy Revere via Getty Images

It's "Rivalry Week" in college football and few games mean more to the College Football Playoff picture than the Egg Bowl taking place in Oxford, Mississippi between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. If Mississippi State wins, it will finish the regular season with just one loss and will have a very good chance to make the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs may even get into the SEC Championship Game if Alabama happens to lose as well. If Ole Miss wins, the College Football Playoff opportunities open up for teams outside of the conference. Outside of the SEC, fans are rooting for Ole Miss. Those fans should get their way. In this matchup between even teams, the home team is an underdog in sports books right now. Ole Miss projects to win outright.

The Rebels are 8-3 straight-up and have played the eighth toughest schedule in the country. Two of their losses have come in heartbreaking fashion as the team lost in back-to-back weeks at LSU, by a field goal when they had the ball in the red zone in the final minute, and at home against Auburn, by four points, after Laquon Treadwell broke his leg and fumbled the ball just inches before crossing the goal line for a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. All three of the Ole Miss losses have come against teams that rank in the Top 20 of our College Football Power Rankings. By the numbers, Ole Miss ranks as having the nation's third-best overall defense, ranking #8 against the run and #14 against the pass. Though senior quarterback Bo Wallace has had his ups and downs as a three year starter at Ole Miss, the passing offense has been efficient and, even now without Treadwell, ranks among the Top 25 in the country by our roster and schedule-adjusted metrics (he is coming off of a bad game at Arkansas, yet the overall numbers look very good).

Mississippi State is 10-1 straight-up against just the 39th ranked FBS schedule - the weakest, by far, of any team in the SEC. A key to understanding any team is putting its numbers into the context of the schedule and this projection adequately accounts for misleading numbers from games between Mississippi State and the likes of Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama and UT-Martin (not to mention getting Vanderbilt and Kentucky as its two opponents from the SEC East). There have been two games in which Mississippi State lost against-the-spread (vs. UAB and @ Arkansas), one in which it lost outright to Alabama and one in which the final margin was the spread (@ Kentucky). In those games, opposing quarterbacks threw for 1,285 yards on 153 attempts (8.4 yards-per-pass). This includes 12 pass plays of 35+ yards in just four games against teams ranked #62, #51, #22 and #2 in pass efficiency. Ole Miss has allowed fewer than that all season. To say that the Bulldogs are susceptible to big plays in the passing game would be an understatement. They rank 110th nationally in number of 10+ yard pass plays allowed. (Also worth noting is that Ole Miss has the 15th highest number of 10+ yard pass plays in the country and 26th most 35+ yard pass, both significantly better than Mississippi State.)

Rivalry or otherwise, explosive plays tend to make the difference in close games. Ole Miss has the best opportunity of hitting such plays at home and against a Mississippi State defense proven to be exploitable through the air.

According to 50,000 games played by the Predictalator at PredictionMachine.com, Ole Miss wins over Mississippi State 52.8% of the time and by an average score of 28-26. As two point underdogs winning outright more often than not, the Rebels cover the spread 56% of the time, which would justify a $38 play from a normal $50 better. The total goes OVER 49.5 56.5% of the time, which warrants a wager of $43 from a normal $50 player. There are eight stronger totals and four stronger against-the-spread plays on Saturday according to our Week 14 analysis.