The Ole Miss Rebels’ 2014-2015 College Football Betting Preview

Steve - CollegeFootballWinning.com

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 8:16 PM GMT

Freeze enters his third year at Ole Miss, yet his coaching excellence revealed itself even before now. Not only an excellent head football coach for players, Freeze has been great for bettors as well. Can that continue, now that the college football world knows him to be such a good coach?

Listen to Hugh Freeze sometime. He is an inspirational speaker and a “good guy.” (This might help with a very subjective College Football Playoff selection process.) Head coaches often unveil their prowess for the first time when they reach their third year with the same team. Freeze enters his third year at Ole Miss, yet his coaching excellence revealed itself even before now. Not only an excellent head football coach for players, Freeze has been great for bettors as well. Can that continue, now that the college football world knows him to be such a good coach? As a college football betting preview of the 2014-2015 Mississippi Rebels, this article explores that very question.


Mississippi’s Hugh Freeze Against-the-Spread (ATS)
As head coach at Ole Miss, Freeze is a very profitable 65.38% ATS. If you include his other year of FBS head coaching, at Arkansas State, Freeze is an unbelievable 69.23% ATS as an FBS head coach. His ATS record in Home and Away games is nearly identical: 64.29% at Home and 66.67% Away. There was little difference in ATS success between Home and Away games at ASU as well. That shows that Freeze’s teams have been consistently undervalued.


Expectations in College Football Betting
As an admitted oversimplification, betting lines are driven by expectations. Under Hugh Freeze and his stable (and able) coaching staff, Ole Miss is on the rise. For only the third time in over 40 years, it appears Mississippi will be ranked in the Preseason AP Top 25 (probably around 20th). Expectations for these Rebels are relatively high, and those expectations are well-founded. After all, with senior QB, Bo Wallace, Ole Miss enters 2014 with the most experienced QB in the SEC. Freeze has brought in back-to-back top-15 recruiting classes, and his defense returns the third-most tackles in the FBS (and the most in the SEC). If it were not for the fact that they play in the same division as Alabama, Auburn, and LSU, there would be more hype surrounding this program this season. Pinnacle has Mississippi’s National Championship futures odds tied for 16th–shortest at (the equivalent of) 52.38-to-1. Expectations are up, and anything that raises expectations for a team is generally bad for ATS outcomes. It is still possible, however, that those elevated expectations are tempered by the public’s perception of Mississippi’s place in the pecking order of the SEC West. In our article outlining preseason predictive principles, we discussed three conditions for a profitable ATS season:

1) Be unranked in the preseason polls. Already mentioned, the Rebels should be ranked entering this season.

2) Be unprofitable the prior ATS season. At 53.85% ATS, Ole Miss was narrowly profitable in 2013.

3) Increase the straight-up (SU) wins from the prior season. Over the last 10 seasons, 80% of the time Ole Miss increased their SU wins from the prior season, they were profitable ATS. Concurrently, 80% of the time the Rebels decreased their SU wins from the prior season, they were unprofitable ATS. In order to improve on 2013’s SU win total, Ole Miss needs to win at least nine games (including an assumed Bowl game). As this is being written, their regular season win total has been posted at 7.5, with the Over at -155. By our calculus, we consider that to be near an even-money 7.75 regular season wins. We then add another .75 for winning nearly 66% of their Bowl games (SU) and the possibility of playing in the SEC title game and an additional College Football Playoff game. That puts their total season wins (not just the regular season) at 8.5. Adding some schedule analysis into the mix (more on that below), and we like the Rebels’ chances of increasing their total SU wins in 2014.


Schedule Notes
Utilizing the NCAA’s method of determining strength of schedule, Ole Miss ranks 26th. Take a look at Mississippi’s 2014 schedule below:

DATE

OPPONENT

LOCATION (STADIUM)

NOTES (Ole Miss Under Hugh Freeze)

08/28/14

Boise State

Atlanta, GA

(Georgia Dome)

UM’s season opens at a “neutral site” (about 300 miles from UM, but over 2,000 miles from Boise). Ole Miss is 80% ATS vs. non-conference opponents, including a perfect 4-0 ATS when playing away from V-H Stadium. UM is 2-0 ATS in season-openers.

09/06/14

Vanderbilt

Nashville, TN

(LP Field)

UM is 2-0 ATS in SEC openers. (Both were Away games.) Ole Miss is 1-1 ATS vs. Vandy. Both games had UM favored by 3 points, and each was decided by 4 points or less. The game has gone Over the Total each time.

09/13/14

Louisiana-Lafayette

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

The last time ULL came to Oxford was in 2010 (before Freeze). Ole Miss closed as a 29-point favorite, but failed to cover the spread (by a TD). UM (under Freeze) is 4-1 ATS vs. non-“Power 5” conferences. UM is 1-1 ATS in Home openers.

09/27/14

Memphis

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

There all only six schools that UM has played more than Memphis. Ole Miss is 3-4 ATS vs. Memphis since 2003, although these teams have not met since 2009 (before Freeze). UM is 4-2 ATS at Home vs. non-conference opponents. The Rebels are 4-3 ATS when double-digit Home favorites.

10/04/14

Alabama

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

UM is 1-1 ATS vs. Bama; both games were played Away, and both went Under. The Rebels are 2-0 ATS in SEC Home openers (both times vs. Texas A&M). Bama has a bye before this game, and it will be the Tide’s first road contest of 2014.

10/11/14

Texas A&M

College Station, TX

(Kyle Field)

UM is 2-0 ATS vs. A&M. Both games saw significant line movement (2012’s line moved 4 points from opening to closing), and both times the line movement suggested the wrong side. Both games were in Oxford, and both times Ole Miss lost (SU) by 3 points.

10/18/14

Tennessee

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

UM has not played UT since 2010 (before Freeze). UT plays FCS Chattanooga the week prior to this game. Ole Miss is 5-3 ATS in SEC Home games.

10/25/14

LSU

Baton Rouge, LA

(Tiger Stadium)

UM is 2-0 ATS vs. LSU. They beat the spread by 13 and 12.5 points in those contests. Both times Ole Miss had less than 40% of the public betting on their side.

11/01/14

Auburn

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

UM is 1-1 ATS vs. Auburn. The Home team is 5-1 ATS in this series since 2008. The spread has been off by double digits in each of the last three contests. The Total has gone Over in four of the last five series games in Oxford.

11/08/14

Presbyterian

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

UM is 1-1 ATS vs. FCS schools; there was no Total in one, but the Total went Under by 17 points in the other (in 2013). Ole Miss is 2-1 ATS in games when favored by at least four TD’s.

11/22/14

Arkansas

Fayetteville, AR

(DWR Razorback Stadium)

UM is 1-1 ATS vs. UA. This will be Senior Day in Fayetteville, and in 2013, Ole Miss was one of UA’s three ATS victories over SEC schools. UM is 3-4 ATS the last 11 seasons (with or without Freeze) as double-digit favorites vs. SEC teams. (Last season, UM was favored by 17 points, but only won by 10.)

11/29/14

Mississippi State

Oxford, MS

(Vaught-Hemingway Stadium)

UM is 1-1 ATS in Egg Bowls and final Home games. The Home team is 7-2-1 ATS in Egg Bowls the last 10 years. Going 3-1-1 ATS (with and without Freeze) at Home in Egg Bowls the last 10 years, Ole Miss beat the spread by an average of 18.67 points in those three ATS wins. The Under is 8-3 in the last 11 Egg Bowls (1-1 under Freeze), despite the public majority betting the Over in 7 out of those 11 games.

Everybody Likes Quarterbacks, but Defense Wins Championships
For years, people saw the SEC as the exception to the football rule that great teams needed great QB’s. That perception was shattered (at least temporarily) last season when the SEC had 5 of the top-12 QB’s (by QB rating) in the FBS. This season should be different from last year. Gone are A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, and Zach Mettenberger, the three most efficient QB’s in the SEC. (Did you notice those three were all from Mississippi’s SEC West?) This season, the SEC West’s most experienced QB’s are Auburn’s Nick Marshall, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, and Mississippi’s Bo Wallace. Of the three, Wallace has more starts, TD passes, and passing yards. Those QB statistics are cute and fun for other conferences, but the SEC, ALMOST without exception, won national championships with defense. Ole Miss returns nine defensive starters- tied for the most in the SEC. This was a scoring defense that, in 2013, went from being ranked 9th to 7th to 5th to 3rd in the SEC, as the season progressed (if the season were divided into quarters). That kind of steady improvement is exactly what one would expect from a young, talented, well-coached group that is headed for excellence- a defense that (under “normal” circumstances) started just one senior last year. From 2013, Ole Miss returns those responsible for 12 of their 13 interceptions, their top-5 tacklers, and their top-6 tackles-for-loss (TFL) leaders. (Ole Miss was tied for 2nd in the SEC for TFL per game in 2013.) Because of their talented, deep, and now-experienced defense, combined with Wallace as an experienced field general for an excellent coaching staff, Ole Miss has a chance to make a leap and upset that SEC West pecking order in 2014.


Don’t Rebel Against These Facts (Under Freeze)

  • When Ole Miss was held under 140 rushing yards, they beat the spread just 30% of the time.
  • When Ole Miss held opposing FBS offenses under 140 rushing yards, they were 12-2 (85.71%) ATS.
  • Line movement (from the opening to the closing betting line) has not been predictive. Line movement indicated the correct side just 43.48% of the time in Ole Miss games.
  • Reverse Line Movement (RLM): Usually an indicator of where the “sharp” money has gone when it opposes the majority of the public bets, the RLM side has been correct LESS than it has been incorrect in Ole Miss games. Therefore, RLM appears to be no indicator of the correct side for Mississippi.
  • The Total has gone Under in 66.67% of Mississippi’s Away games.
  • The Over has been correct in just 48% of Mississippi’s games, yet a majority of the public betting has been on the Over in 82% of their games!


Preseason Conclusions
The 2015 College Football National Championship will be determined by playing-off four teams chosen by 13 people. For good or ill, this will be the most subjective method of determining the four best teams in college football since before the BCS. Given the extreme subjectivity of the selection process and the fact that we have no data on the results (since this is the first year of the process), we recommend the most conservative approach to your National Championship futures betting. Even following that conservative approach, Ole Miss is an SEC team (subjectively, the “best” conference, so a guaranteed positive for the Selection Committee) that plays Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State in Oxford. Their toughest road game should be LSU, and Ole Miss plays LSU well. (Freeze is 1-1 SU against LSU, including losing 35-41 in Death Valley in 2012, despite outgaining LSU by 35 yards.) When we combine a strong defense, excellent coaching, the most experienced QB in the SEC, a schedule that has the cachet to impress people, and 50-1 odds, we like the idea of taking a futures bet flyer on Ole Miss.

In 2012 (Freeze’s first season), Ole Miss beat the spread by an average of nearly 6.8 points. Last season, although the Rebels had a 7-6 ATS season, on average, they failed to cover the spread by 2.5 points. That 9.3 spread points-per-game difference (between +6.8 and -2.5) from Freeze’ first season to his second, tells us that the betting line has closed-in on Ole Miss in a hurry. That does not augur well for the Rebels’ 2014 ATS season. The mitigating force to that betting line leap is our belief that Ole Miss can still surprise some top teams (i.e., when Ole Miss is the underdog). Under Freeze, Mississippi is 69.23% ATS as underdogs. It is possible that Ole Miss will be underdogs in as many as five games this season. Putting all the ATS pieces together, we like the Rebels’ chances of having a narrowly-to-moderately profitable ATS 2014 season. We also recommend as an NCAA betting pick, the Over on 7.5 wins, even at -155.

Should Ole Miss play to their defensive capability while the offense protects Bo Wallace as he has his best season ever, then the sky is the limit for these Rebels. Inexperience behind Wallace, however, puts Mississippi one injury away from “also-ran” status. With a little good fortune, Ole Miss could be the surprise of 2014.


©CollegeFootballWinning.com