Alabama Crimson Tide at Ole Miss Rebels, Saturday Sept. 17, 3:30 p.m. ET
Alabama is the No. 1 team in the country, but Nick Saban isn't a happy man. Several times in the last game you could see him screaming at Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. It's understandable to some extent - a lot of football fans have dreamed of screaming at Kiffin over the years. It's a bit more emotion than Saban likes to show, though, and it's a sign that maybe he is feeling the pressure this year - that the hounds that are chasing him are nearer. Now they face their toughest test of the season to date, and we will get a sense of where this team is really at.
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Is Saban right to be concerned? Or is he just working as hard as always to maintain his seemingly impossibly high standards?
Alabama at Ole Miss Betting Storylines
It's not hard to figure out why Saban is upset. Alabama's offense has long been built around a fierce running game. Against Western Kentucky last week the team managed just 3.2 yards per carry and looked nothing like the offense that has created high draft picks and Heisman winners at the position. They had to replace the running back this year, and do it at the same time as they are starting a true freshman at QB, and they have a new center and three other new offensive line starters as well. They are out of sync, and it is having an impact on everything they do.
They are committing far too many penalties and aren't bulldozing the lanes like Alabama always has. Now, it's not like it is time to panic - they have won two games pretty easily and have scored an average of 45 points per game. That success has a lot to do with the opponents, though, and despite the wins they look far more mortal than they have in recent times. These are issues that can be fixed. The question is whether they have had the time to fix them yet.
For Chad Kelly and the Ole Miss offense, it was a serious case of Jekyll and Hyde in the opener against Florida State. In the first half Kelly looked like a giant, throwing for four touchdowns and being virtually unstoppable. In the second half, though, the Seminoles adjusted and pressured him more, and he could do nothing right. His two interceptions were close to his only completed passes, and he looked lousy. Even with a new defensive coordinator, the Tide are a very good defensive unit that has played great so far. They have a road map for playing against Kelly after that second half against FSU, and you can be sure they will pressure him relentlessly to make things happen.
Like Alabama right now, Kelly doesn't have a good running game to fall back on - they have been next to useless on the ground so far. Of course, Alabama was smart and immensely talented on defense last year, too, and Kelly still threw for 341 yards and three scores in the big Ole Miss win.
Alabama at Ole Miss Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Alabama favored by 9.5 points. That has been on the rise, with the Tide now favored by 11 points. More than three-quarters of bets have been on Alabama, so the line movement is as expected, and more movement is possible. The total opened at 54.5 and has been stable at that level in early action.
Alabama has won eight of the last 10 matchups between these two teams, but not the last two. Ole Miss is an impressive 7-3 ATS over that 10-game stretch. The Tide are 7-2 ATS in their last nine games overall and 6-1 ATS in their last seven road games. The Rebels are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games but only 2-5 ATS in their last seven games following a straight up win.
Alabama at Ole Miss Predictions and Picks
I have looked at this game again and again trying to figure out why it seems as straightforward as it does from a betting perspective. I'm sure it's a trap, but I can't convince myself not to jump into the trap anyway. Alabama has looked exploitable on defense, and this is a much more capable team than the previous two they have faced. Ole Miss plays at home and has the confidence of having knocked off Alabama each of the last two years. Chad Kelly finds ways to shine against this offense. I don't necessarily think that Ole Miss will win again, but when I can take a talented and ranked team at home as an 11-point dog I'll take them - regardless of who they are playing pretty much. Ole Miss to cover is the pick.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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