Half of you are going to think I’ve lost my mind when I ask this, but here goes:
Would Ole Miss beat Mississippi State if the teams played today?
Note that I’m not asking if Ole Miss is a better team. I’m asking if Ole Miss would win a game played today against Mississippi State.
I’m not sure the answer is so obvious.
Yes, I know MSU is 7-1 and Ole Miss is 5-3. I know that the Bulldogs are ranked in every national poll and the Rebels got 3 votes this week in the coaches’ poll, probably a No. 23 cast by some bleary-eyed assistant coach in Corvallis or some such.
The teams have two opponents in common – and that’s a rather interesting piece of evidence in the Rebels’ favor:
Auburn: MSU beat the awful Tigers 28-10 in Starkville, while Ole Miss won 41-20 in Oxford.
Alabama: Ole Miss put up an interesting fight for a while – even leading for a few seconds – before losing 31-14. Mississippi State got whipped, 38-7.
To my eye, this at least suggests that the teams aren’t that far apart.
Jeff Sagarin, my former USA Today colleague, turns his computer formula loose on this question and declares that Ole Miss, playing at home, is a couple points better than Mississippi State.
Is that accurate? Well, last week Jeff’s formula said Ole Miss would win by 2 at Arkansas (won by 3) and that Alabama would win by 27 (won by 31).
Spend some time looking at the “SEC only” stats, and it tends to reinforce the impression that the teams are rather similar. One surprise – Ole Miss is No. 1 in league games on offensive efficiency inside the 20, a perfect 15-for-15 on scoring when down there. (MSU is 12 of 16.)
I posed this question Sunday on Twitter and Bulldogs fans gave the same sort of general response – “You’ve got to be joking!” – they gave when Las Vegas set Alabama as a four-touchdown favorite for last weekend’s game.
I don’t know the answer myself.
Don’t look ahead
But neither team can afford to worry about that right now. State is facing two very lose-able games – home against Texas A&M today and at LSU next week – before closing with Arkansas and Ole Miss.
With trips to Georgia today and LSU ahead, the Rebels’ best chance to become bowl eligible is to beat Vanderbilt next week. But that has been a tricky series in recent years.
Both teams have a lot of business to tend to before meeting on Nov. 24 in Oxford. And it starts today.
John L. Pitts (email@example.com) is sports editor of the Journal.