We’re splitting this week’s game previews into two parts. Below are the stats, thoughts and picks for the SEC games to be played tonight (the Egg Bowl) and tomorrow (the battle for the Golden Boot). Saturday’s previews will go up tomorrow afternoon as per usual.
Best of luck to whoever you’re rooting for!
Ole Miss (7-4) at Mississippi State (5-6)
TV: Tonight, 7:30pm ET on ESPN
Opening Line: UM -3
Current Line: UM -4.5
One To Watch: MSU QB Damien Williams. We penciled in Williams as our guy to watch before State’s win over Arkansas last week, too. Only that sneaky Dan Mullen started a banged-up Tyler Russell as his quarterback instead. At least until Russell got hurt (again). Williams came in and scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Dak Prescott is definitely out this week and Russell is once again listed as day-to-day. If Williams does get the start, how will the freshman play and what will the Rebels throw at him? (We expect both Russell and Williams to see action.)
This And That:
1. State head coach Dan Mullen needs to win this game. The momentum he created with an Egg Bowl win in his first season and a nine-win campaign in his second is long gone at the end of Year Five. With the Iron Bowl, both Alabama and Auburn can be good at the same time. The Egg Bowl rivalry is different. It seems that only one team at a time can rise in the Magnolia State. From ’08 to ’11, MSU was that team. Then came a Hugh Freeze-led rout last November and a top five recruiting class for the Rebels. Mullen has to win this one to go bowling (for a fourth straight year) and to steal back a little sizzle from “the school up North.”
2. Can Mississippi run the football? In the Rebels’ seven wins they’ve averaged 243 yards per game rushing and 5.3 yards per carry. Great numbers. But in their four losses? Just 107 yards per game and an unhealthy 3.4 yards per carry. UM also rushes for 50 yards less per game on the road than at home. Top Rebel back Jeff Scott is once again less than 100%, but MSU has allowed seven of its 11 opponents to rush for more than 160 yards (including three that went over 200). If the Rebels can run the ball effectively (and steer clear of turnovers), it’ll be hard for State to win this one.
3. Ole Miss leads the Egg Bowl series. Ole Miss has the better team this season. But Ole Miss hasn’t won in Starkville since 2003. In fact, the Rebels have lost six of the last seven Egg Bowls played in Oktibbeha County.
Bonus: MSU will be wearing gold helmets as they continue to inch toward Oregon and Maryland status with regards to daffy uniforms.
Double Bonus: Anyone remember Dan Mullen’s statement to his team after a 2010 Egg Bowl win? “We’re never losing to this team again.”
Prediction: Ole Miss 27, Mississippi State 21
Arkansas (3-8) at LSU (8-3)
TV: Friday, 2:30pm ET on CBS
Opening Line: -24.5
Current Line: -25.5
One To Watch: LSU’s mindset. The Tigers will have go to guard against a letdown tomorrow afternoon. Last Saturday they walloped Texas A&M 34-10 and, arguably, played their best game of the season. Now they’re coming off a short week against a foe that will be easy to overlook. Will Les Miles team be sharp… or sloppy?
This And That:
1. November 25, 2011. Arkansas carried a #3 national ranking into its date with #1 LSU. Three minutes into the second quarter, the Hogs held a 14-0 lead. That was the equivalent of James Longstreet’s July 3rd assault on Union forces at Gettysburg — it was the Razorbacks’ high-water mark. LSU would roar back for a 41-17 victory in that game. Less than five months later Bobby Petrino would wreck his motorcycle and set off a chain of events that’s seen the Hogs’ football fortunes plummet. Since that last Arkansas visit to Baton Rouge, UA has gone just 8-16 (2-13 in the SEC). It’s a long, long drop from #3 to winless in the SEC.
2. Bret Bielema’s team is playing for nothing but pride at this point and that usually results in nothing but losses in the SEC. The coach said this week that he’s told his team to “have fun with it, try to make the most of a very difficult situation and be something that you can remember for a lifetime.” Not exactly Gene Hackman’s speech from “Hoosiers,” but to be fair, there’s not really much to be said. Arkansas has lost eight games in a row. The first-year coach has gone from hero to “maybe he’s not the right guy” in three months’ time (which isn’t fair considering Arkansas’ roster and his preferred style of play). Can the coach find any way at all to milk a competitive effort out of his squad at Tiger Stadium? Or are his players simply ready to close the lid on this season and bury it?
3. The numbers just don’t add up for Arkansas. The Hogs are 0-4 on the road. LSU is 6-0 at home. The Tigers average a hundred yards per game more on offense than the Razorbacks. They allow 60 yards per game less. LSU is minus-two in turnovers for the season, but Arkansas is much worse at minus-nine. Any way you want to slice it, this one looks like it’s going to be a long, hard slog for Bielema’s boys.
Prediction: LSU 38, Arkansas 14