Ole Miss gets respect before Tide showdown

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Not long ago, these two guys stalked the same sideline, shared big wins and reached the top of the sport together. Now, in the biggest game of the week, they will be on opposite sidelines.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? Sure, but the Buccaneers-Patriots showdown is a different story.

Before the NFL’s Sunday soap opera, Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin will butt heads Saturday in a high-stakes college football reunion in Tuscaloosa, where top-ranked Alabama is a double-digit favorite against Mississippi. A Southeastern Conference title and Heisman Trophy could be on the line.

Oddsmakers and sharp bettors spent Sunday disagreeing on what the point spread should be after Circa Sports bookmaker Matt Metcalf opened Alabama as a 20-point favorite. All the action rolled in on Mississippi in the first few hours to drive the line to 14.5, and it settled at 15 by Tuesday.

“I have Bama rated too high, evidently,” Metcalf said. “I don’t think my Ole Miss number is wrong.”

The Crimson Tide typically attract overwhelming betting support, but this week’s show of respect for the Rebels is a twist to the storyline.

In 2015, when Saban coached Alabama to the national championship, Kiffin was his offensive coordinator. Saban, who’s grumpy and serious, and Kiffin, who can be a comic, formed an odd couple. In 2020, Kiffin’s first year as Mississippi’s coach, the teams met in Oxford for a shootout. The score was tied at 42 early in the fourth quarter before the Tide busted loose to win 63-48 as 23-point favorites.

Rebels quarterback Matt Corral completed 21 of 28 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns yet was outdueled by former Tide quarterback Mac Jones, who became the Patriots’ first-round draft pick and is getting set for a duel with Brady.

Corral is coming back for more. Mississippi (3-0) is scoring 52.7 points per game after blowouts of Louisville, Austin Peay and Tulane. Two of those teams are decent. The Alabama defense is a different animal, of course.

“I tend to think Ole Miss can trade points in this game,” The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall said. “I’m not sure this Alabama team is at the level it was last year.”

The betting public seems likely to play Over the total of 77.5, considering last year’s game produced 111 points and 1,370 total yards. Picking a side is a tougher decision, but the sharps were quick to pull the trigger on the Rebels at an inflated number. Metcalf said the high total means there is more gray area or wiggle room in the point spread.

“I had 18 but liked how the 20 looked on the board,” Metcalf said.

South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews, who opened the Tide as 22-point favorites against Mississippi in the summer, said the Rebels are better than he expected. Also, Alabama’s air of invincibility was lost Sept. 18 in its 31-29 win at Florida.

“My number would be right around 17,” Andrews said. “I have raised Mississippi’s rating a little bit. I thought this would be one of the best Alabama defenses of all time, but they have not played like that. At some point the coaching will kick in, and that always happens with Saban, but it has not happened yet.”

A clear Heisman favorite is about to emerge. Will it be Corral or Alabama quarterback Bryce Young? BetMGM lists Corral and Young as 2-1 co-favorites, but things are about to change.

Corral has passed for 997 yards and nine touchdowns without an interception while rushing for 158 yards and five scores. Young has passed for 1,124 yards and 15 touchdowns with one interception while leading the Tide (4-0) to victories over Miami, Mercer, Florida and Southern Mississippi.

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, the preseason Heisman favorite, has faded to 20-1 after underperforming in the first month. (As a side note, PointsBet lists Rattler as the + 225 favorite to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft, and I’m here to tell you those odds are ridiculous because there’s no chance Rattler should go first.) No other contenders have stepped up, leaving Corral and Young to air it out. This could be Corral’s Heisman moment, similar to when Johnny Manziel seized the day in 2012. The Texas A&M redshirt freshman accounted for 345 yards and led the Aggies to a 29-24 upset of the No. 1-ranked Tide in Tuscaloosa.

The College Football Playoff race is as wide open as ever with Clemson and Ohio State taking early losses. The door is swinging open for Cincinnati to be the first Group of Five team to reach the playoff, setting the stage for another pivotal game this weekend.

The Bearcats, 2.5-point favorites at Notre Dame, must beat the Fighting Irish before running the table in the American Athletic Conference to have any playoff shot. Since the inception of the four-team playoff at the end of the 2014 season, 20 of the 28 playoff spots have gone to four Power Five teams — Alabama (six), Clemson (six), Ohio State (four) and Oklahoma (four) — and Notre Dame is the only other team with multiple appearances with two.

The Irish have a 4-0 team with obvious flaws, but they also have a manageable schedule the rest of the way. With a win this week, coach Brian Kelly could start to map a realistic playoff path for Notre Dame. Most college football fans want to see a so-called little guy crash the playoff party and will be rooting hard for the Bearcats.

It’s not creating Brady-Belichick type of hype, but the first Saturday in October will be dramatic on the college level. A lot is on the line for Cincinnati and Mississippi.

The Rebels appear to be for real and might be strong enough to corral the Crimson Tide. What seems certain is the winning quarterback will take the lead in the Heisman hunt.

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