For starters, those guys in Vegas know what they’re doing. As my boss, John Pitts, recently put it, they drive bigger cars than we do for a reason.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Rebels (5-6, 2-5 SEC) were favored by 1 to 11⁄2 points over the No. 25-ranked Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3). On the surface, that seems silly, but it isn’t.
While it’s nice that MSU has eight wins, only one of the teams it has beaten has a winning record – Middle Tennessee State, a Sun Belt Conference school. Well, two teams if you count Jackson State, but I don’t because that’s an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) program.
Not that Ole Miss has any impressive wins on its résumé. The only team it’s beaten with a winning mark is Central Arkansas – also an FCS program.
So why does Vegas say Ole Miss is the favorite? I can’t fully answer that, but I have my guesses.
Look at the common opponents. There are five, all of them SEC Western Division teams. Ole Miss and State are both 2-3 against those teams, beating the same teams (Arkansas and Auburn) and losing to the same teams (Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M).
If you’re into point margins, MSU beat Arkansas and Auburn by a combined score of 73-24, while Ole Miss won those games by a total of 71-47.
More telling, perhaps, are the losses these teams have in common. MSU was outscored 113-37 by Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M; Ole Miss was outscored 104-76.
I think anyone who watched all six of those games would say Ole Miss played those teams tougher, on the whole, than MSU did.
The Rebels lost to Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M squad by three, and it took a touchdown with 15 seconds left for LSU to pull it out at home.
It should be noted that MSU had to play those games one right after the other, as tough a stretch as you could have. Ole Miss got Alabama and A&M back-to-back, then LSU six weeks later.
Both the Rebels and Bulldogs had to play the Alabama and LSU games on the road, and both got A&M at home.
Does this really tell us anything? MSU coach Dan Mullen doesn’t believe so.
“None of that stuff matters when you get to this game,” he said. “Anybody you played, I don’t think that has any relevance. It’s really how you’re going to perform this week.”
Fair point. For the record, I’m taking MSU in a close one. I’m not about to put any money on it, though.
Brad Locke (email@example.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.