Why is No. 14 Ole Miss a touchdown favorite over No. 7 Kentucky?

Even with home-field advantage, the Rebels shouldn't be that big of favorites over the Wildcats, right?

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Vaught Hemingway Stadium, home of the Ole Miss Rebels
Vaught Hemingway Stadium
Image: Getty Images

The AP’s college football rankings are supposed to determine the best teams in the nation. No. 1 is supposed to be a better team than No. 2 if both teams played on a neutral field. The same goes with No. 2 and 3, 3 and 4…and so on and so forth. Therefore, it came as a massive surprise when bettors woke up last Sunday and saw a certain betting line for Week 5.

On the schedule was No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Ole Miss. On a surface level, you’d think Kentucky, despite being the road team, would be the favorite, or at the very least, very small underdogs. WRONG! They were 6.5-point underdogs at the beginning of the week. The rankings are always going to be the first thing any casual bettor sees. They see a seven next to Kentucky and a 14 next to Ole Miss and think, “Alright! That’s a mistake! Time to make the sportsbooks sorry. I’ll take the underdog Kentucky to cover.” However, this is a classic Admiral Ackbar situation. It’s an enormous trap!

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This created a very, very lopsided distribution of bets poured in Kentucky’s favor. Eighty percent of bettors were betting on Kentucky to cover. That said, only 53 percent of the money was in Kentucky’s favor. That’s telling. People are more willing to put bigger dollar amounts on a worse-ranked team that would need to win by a touchdown or more. Why? What do those bettors and the sportsbooks know that can’t be explained by the team’s ranking?

While Kentucky is the better team overall, Ole Miss appears to be a nightmare matchup. Kentucky’s biggest weakness is its offensive line. Through four weeks, Kentucky is last in the SEC in yards per carry at 2.41. The Wildcats have also surrendered the most sacks in the SEC with quarterback Will Levis having hit the turf 16 times already this year. While the O-line is usually a strength at Kentucky, this year Pro Football Focus ranks them 66th in the nation in pass blocking and 77th in run blocking. That’s not good, but it gets worse when you realize where Ole Miss’s biggest strength lies.

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The Rebels’ front seven is one of the toughest in the country. They rank second in the SEC in sacks and third in tackles for loss. According to PFF, Ole Miss ranks 44th in the nation in run blocking with a 77.9 grade and 14th in pass rush. That’s a pretty big discrepancy, and while the Rebels have sustained Yes, the Wildcats will see the return of preseason All-American Chris Rodriguez Jr., but a great running back often does not make up for poor offensive line play.

On the flip side of the ball, Ole Miss has been one of the most effective rushing teams in FBS, averaging 280.8 yards per game on the ground. Kentucky’s secondary has been great this year, ranking 15th in passing yards allowed per game and eighth in passer rating allowed. However, that front seven, despite consistently holding opponents to under their season average, has benefited heavily from the game script. In every game this year, the Wildcats have led by at least a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. That’s going to promote a pass-heavy offense from every opponent and that’s where Kentucky’s strength lies. Kentucky loves to run defenses with light box pressure, but against a team like Ole Miss that loves nothing more than to run the ball down their opponent’s throats, that could come back to bite them.

Is the line too high?? Maybe, but Vegas tends to be very good at setting lines. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t make any money, and we all know they’re only in it for the money. While I believe Kentucky to be the better team overall, Ole Miss’ strengths offensively and defensively match up so perfectly against Kentucky that I can’t help but understand why sportsbooks would have the No. 7 team in the nation as such hefty underdogs. Basically, as much of a layup as this game may seem at a glance, always do your research before throwing money down.