Mississippi State football is favored to beat No. 8 Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. Does that make sense?
OXFORD — Mississippi State is favored to play spoiler at the end of what could potentially be the winningest regular season in Ole Miss football history.
The Bulldogs (7-4, 4-3 SEC) host No. 8 Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC) on Thursday (6:30 p.m., ESPN) for the 118th meeting in the storied in-state rivalry. The Tipico sportsbook and USA TODAY Sports list Mississippi State as a 1.5-point favorite to defeat the higher-ranked Rebels and bring the Egg Bowl trophy back to Starkville.
Ole Miss enters on a three-game winning streak and Mississippi State has won two straight. The Rebels have struggled on the road this season and the Bulldogs have been far from perfect at home. Ole Miss hasn't lost to an unranked team and Mississippi State has more wins over ranked teams as an unranked team than any other school.
It's going to be close. Here are some matchups to watch that might decide this intense rivalry game.
What comes after halftime matters
In its last three games, Ole Miss has been outscored 24-3 and outgained 376 yards to 188 in the third quarter. In that same span, Mississippi State has outscored opponents 34-3 in the third quarter and outgained them 501 yards to 203.
Mississippi State is one of college football's best second-half teams. That was true in the opener against Louisiana Tech and it was true two weeks ago against Auburn. And now it's playing against an Ole Miss team that has ground to an offensive halt in the second half four games in a row.
There's something about this Mississippi State team that comes out strong to start the second half. If that happens again, it doesn't seem like these Rebels are built to keep up late.
When the field shrinks matters
Ole Miss and Mississippi State spend a lot of time in the red zone. In SEC play, Ole Miss has made 37 trips inside its opponents' 20, tied for the most in the conference, and Mississippi State is just behind at 34 trips.
The difference? Mississippi State scores touchdowns 64.7% of the time and Ole Miss just 54.1% of the time. The Bulldogs have put points on the board in 85.3% of those trips and the Rebels are only scoring 73% of the time.
Ole Miss needs to start doing a better job of taking advantage of its scoring opportunities or else the Bulldogs will be able to turn lengthy drives into points to drain the clock and decrease the Rebels' number of chances to come back.
The interception battle matters
Mississippi State is 2-3 when quarterback Will Rogers throws an interception and 5-1 when he doesn't. Ole Miss' defense has intercepted six passes in the last three games and the Rebels are 6-1 when they intercept at least one pass.
Ole Miss has an opportunistic defense. Rogers is an accurate passer who doesn't take too many risks. One of these strengths is going to knock the other out of rhythm. If Ole miss steals extra possessions, it'll have the advantage. If Rogers protects the ball, he should be able to find holes in the Ole Miss zone.
If you look at the full body of work this season, there's a reason Ole Miss has the better record and is the higher-ranked team. But if you look at the individual matchups and the what-have-you-done-lately factor and throw in the home-field advantage, there' a reason why Mississippi State is favored here.
It'll be close. Make no bones about that. But give Mississippi State the slight advantage in a toss-up.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.