College Football Handicapping: Ole Miss Opens SEC At USC
by Matt Severance - 9/22/2009
Things are very good right now in Oxford, Mississippi. The Ole Miss football team is No. 4 in the nation, its highest ranking since 1970, and the Bulldogs boast the second-longest current winning streak in the country with eight in a row - the team's longest streak in nearly 37 years.
Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead has had multiple TD passes in all eight games, which is a school record. The offense gets the publicity for the Rebels, having averaged 46.5 points in the past six games and putting up 45 and 52 points, respectively, against Memphis and Southeastern Louisiana this year. But don't overlook that defense, which has allowed only 20 points so far and held Southeast Louisiana to 0-for-14 on third-down conversions last week.
Ole Miss is shining on defense despite not getting much from star defensive end Greg Hardy, who sprained his ankle in the opener and sat out last week. But Hardy, a potential first-round NFL pick and one of the best pass-rushers in the country, is being called probable to play Thursday night against South Carolina. The host Gamecocks are 3-point dogs on BetUS.
The Rebels' three sacks in their first two games rank last in the SEC; Hardy has 18.5 sacks in his last two seasons.
Mississippi had owned the series with South Carolina, taking a five-game winning streak into last year's meeting. But USC won 31-24 in Oxford. USC got a career day from now departed quarterback Chris Smelley (327 yards and three touchdowns) and recovered two critical fumbles by the Rebels. Ole Miss then was beaten the following week by Alabama as well but hasn't lost since. The Rebs have, however, dropped five SEC openers in a row.
South Carolina's offense looked horrible in the opening 7-3 win over N.C. State but has put up 65 points in the two games since then in losing to Georgia and beating Florida Atlantic. In the past two games, sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia has really blossomed, and he ranks second in the SEC in total offense at 253.0 yards per game. The Gamecocks had a 100-yard receiver (freshman Jarvis Giles, 113) and 100-yard rusher (freshman Tori Gurley, 100) on Saturday for the first time since 2007. Yet coach Steve Spurrier isn't satisfied with that unit.
"The offense has made some improvement but still could make so much more," Spurrier said in published reports. "We can't hit a deep pass to save our lives around here. We have guys wide open but something always happens."
In that win over the Owls, the Gamecocks were without two of their top three defensive tacklers as Nathan Pepper, who returned a fumble for a TD last year vs. Ole Miss, was out with a high ankle sprain and Ladi Ajiboye was serving the final game of a three-game suspension. Linebacker Eric Norwood was limited some after suffering a bruised shoulder in the game, but he is expected to play against Ole Miss. Ajiboye will be back, but it is unlikely Pepper will go. USC ranks fourth in the SEC in total defense (249.3 ypg) and is tied for the SEC lead in sacks with 10.
By the way, watch for Norwood to be a demon against South Carolina, as he thrives in Thursday night games. In 2007, No. 9 Kentucky visited South Carolina on a Thursday and Norwood returned two fumbles for touchdowns as USC pulled the upset. Last year, Norwood had a season-high 10 tackles in a Thursday night loss at Vanderbilt. And in this year's season opener, also on a Thursday, Norwood had two sacks as USC shut down N.C. State.
Most Recent College Football Weekly Predictions
- College Football Picks: Mid-Major Game Day Predictions Week 14
- Pac-12 Championship Game Predictions: UCLA at Oregon
- SEC Championship Game Predictions: LSU vs. Georgia
- College Football Picks: West Virginia at South Florida
- College Football Predictions: Penn State at Wisconsin
- College Football Picks: Mid-Major Game Day Predictions Week 13
- College Football Picks: Texas at Texas A&M
- College Football Predictions: Oklahoma State at Iowa
- Nebraska at Michigan Predictions
- College Football Picks: Mid-Major Game Day Predictions Week 12