When it comes time for predictions I generally try to stay local when the opportunity is there.
If I believe the team I'm covering has a legitimate chance to win based on matchups and/or other circumstances, I pick local. It saves me grief.
For the first time since Vanderbilt, I'm picking local. My confidence was not rewarded back on Sept. 17. Maybe it will be Saturday.
Ole Miss has shown recent improvement in some areas – like the rushing game as Brandon Bolden has gotten healthier – but has not improved in others – like stopping the run.
Randall Mackey has been OK as the starting quarterback, though Auburn was not a great game for him.
I'm picking the Rebels because Kentucky hasn't shown it knows how to win in the SEC either. These two teams are a combined 1-16 in their last 17 SEC games, the win coming when Ole Miss defeated Kentucky 42-35 last October in Oxford.
The Wildcats have been stagnant on offense. They're a little banged up at running back and could be making a change at quarterback, where they're a little banged up too.
Freshman Maxwell Smith has appeared in five games, his most extensive time coming in a productive relief appearance last week against Mississippi State. He's taken most of the first-team reps this week, ahead of starter Morgan Newton, who left the MSU game in the first half with a high ankle sprain. Newton, in fact, did not practice Wednesday. Signs may point to Smith, a truer pocket passer, though UK coach Joker Phillips has not named a starter.
Smith completed 26-of-33 attempts against MSU, mostly underneath stuff. Ole Miss, remember, was pretty good in pass defense against Arkansas' potent passing attack, less so against an Auburn pass offense that was floundering at the time of the Tigers' 41-23 win last week.
Kentucky ranks No. 115 in passing offense, 115 in scoring offense and 115 in total offense. You know, of course, the key against Ole Miss is rushing offense. The Wildcats are 78th in America, ninth in the SEC at 138.75 yards a game, but numbers really don't matter much.
Ole Miss has struggled with everybody's run game. Six teams have surpassed 200 yards against the Rebels. Ole Miss is giving up 226.8 yards a game. Take out the season opener, in which the Rebels gave up just 91 yards to BYU, and Ole Miss is giving up 246 yards a game. Recent history suggests that whoever runs the ball for Kentucky has an excellent chance to be named SEC offensive player of the week. It's happened three straight weeks.
Changes on defense could make a difference here as Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt puts his freshmen in starting roles. We'll see.
The third-quarter blues scenario is an intriguing matchup. Ole Miss has been outscored 61-0 in the third quarter over the last three games. Kentucky has been outscored 47-17 in the third quarter this season.
One of the Rebels' most consistent weapons this season has been kicker Bryson Rose, who has made 15 consecutive field goals, three away from tying the SEC record.
Rose has yet to be in position to attempt a game-winner. I say he gets his chance this week, behind an Ole Miss offense that gets in position with a solid ground-oriented drive led by Bolden, who will be productive in both halves.
I'm picking local.
Prediction: Ole Miss 22, Kentucky 21