Bama-Ole Miss Preview
Whatever respect the 20th-ranked Rebels lost following their early stumble, however, they could quickly regain by beating the Crimson Tide this weekend in Oxford.
Oddsmakers from online sports book BetOnline have made Alabama –6.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 83% of bets for this game have been placed on Alabama –6 (View College Football bet percentages).
No. 3 Alabama, meanwhile, will look to extend a dominating start and a five-game winning streak against Ole Miss as its defense tries to bounce back from arguably its worst performance of the season.
This game was circled on both teams' calendars after each was ranked in the top 10 before the season, and the Rebels jumped as high as No. 4 before their major slip-up.
Quarterback Jevan Snead was 7 of 21 for 107 yards in a 16-10 loss at South Carolina on Sept. 24, and while Mississippi bounced back with a 23-7 win at Vanderbilt last Saturday, Snead's problems continued as he threw three interceptions along with his three touchdowns.
"I think he would be the first to tell you that we can't have some of those mistakes that he made in the second half," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "We were executing the offense very well to start, then we started forcing things and he needs to either drop it off to the back or throw it away."
The Rebels (3-1, 1-1 SEC) still have high hopes in the crowded SEC West, but any chances of reaching the conference title game would almost certainly require a win over Alabama.
That hasn't looked like an easy task based on the Tide's first five games. Alabama's 38-20 win at Kentucky on Saturday was perhaps the team's least impressive victory even though it had a 25-point lead through three quarters on the road.
"Even though it's a win and we'll take the win, we're not really satisfied with it," star linebacker Rolando McClain said. "We know we could have played a lot better."
McClain was the national defensive player of the week after he had 12 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, but the unit as a whole allowed 133 rushing yards - more than double its previous season high.
Overall, Alabama (5-0, 2-0) still ranks second to top-ranked Florida nationally in total defense, allowing 222.2 yards per game.
The Tide's offense averages more than that on the ground alone (228.2), led by running back Mark Ingram. The sophomore has 290 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in Alabama's two road games.
"A lot of teams come out and play on emotion," Ingram said. "The more we hit them in the mouth, it wears them down."
The team may look heavily to the ground game again as highly touted wide receiver Julio Jones continues to struggle. Jones nearly racked up 1,000 receiving yards as a freshman last season, but he has 133 in four games this fall, including just two catches for 13 yards against Kentucky.
Alabama has still managed a productive passing attack with junior Greg McElroy in his first season as starting quarterback. McElroy has thrown 89 passes without an interception in the last four games, with eight touchdown passes mixed in over that span.
McElroy may have to be sharp against Mississippi's defense, a strong unit led by standout defensive end Greg Hardy. The Rebels have allowed a total of 43 points in the team's four games - the sixth-best scoring defense in the nation.
"(Mississippi) is probably the best team we have played to this point, all the way around," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, whose team has already beaten then-No. 7 Virginia Tech.
"Their defensive team is very highly ranked," Saban added. "They've got a very good front, a couple of dominant up front guys and couple of good pass rushers and play well in the secondary."
They also have a growing track record of challenging top teams under Nutt. In the coach's first season in Oxford last year, Mississippi went 1-1 against top-five opponents, beating eventual national champion Florida 31-30 before losing to then-No. 2 Alabama 24-20 on Oct. 18, with both games coming on the road.
"I think it is about preparation, your attitude and how you approach it," said Nutt, who also had two wins over top-five teams in his last two years at Arkansas in 2006-07. "It has always been a kind of winning formula - the way you approach things. You get your guys to believe."
The Tide led Ole Miss 24-3 at halftime during last year's meeting, but the Rebels launched a furious rally before falling short. Mississippi still hasn't beaten Alabama since 2003, when Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns in a 43-28 win.
Nutt, however, already has experience beating Saban. Nutt's Arkansas teams won two of five meetings with LSU while Saban was in Baton Rouge from 2000-04.
Posted: 10/7/09 12:42PM ET