It’s 90 degrees in the shade and the humidity feels like something out of the Congo. So, let’s chill for a minute and discuss college football.

Never mind that it still will be 90 degrees and humid as Hades when college football kicks off in Mississippi in 59 days. We’re getting close. The SEC is hosting its 2017 Media Days next week in Hoover, a sure sign that football approaches.

An even surer sign: Las Vegas oddsmakers have released betting lines on the first weekend’s games. I, for one, found some interesting numbers. Let’s discuss …

Ole Miss opened at a 22.5-point favorite over South Alabama, and that line already has moved to 26.5. Wowzers. Lots of folks are betting lots of money on the Rebels to win huge against a South Alabama team that opened the 2016 schedule with a 21-20 victory over Mississippi State, a team that defeated Ole Miss 55-20 in the final game of 2016.

There must be more than meets the eye here. Dallas Davis, the quarterback who hurdled over a Mississippi State defender in the most memorable play of that 21-20 game and then threw the winning touchdown, returns for South Alabama. He’s an athletic, now experienced quarterback. The Jaguars also return an outstanding running back and several key players on defense. The unknown factor: South Alabama also will debut several transfer players from schools such as Miami, Missouri and Mississippi State.

Clearly, this is not a game Ole Miss can play dead and win.

At first glance, 22.5, much more 26.5 points, seems an awful lot to give.

• • •

Southern Miss opens earlier that same day (Sept. 2), playing host to Kentucky. The Las Vegas line on this one was a real head-turner: Kentucky opened a 10-point favorite, and the betting line remains 10 points. USM opened the 2016 season out-scoring Kentucky 27-0 in the second half to win 44-35 at Lexington. The Golden Eagles trailed by 35-10 late in the first half. And won. On the road. 

So, has Kentucky gotten that much better? Or has USM gotten that much worse? And, pray tell, does the home field advantage count for anything?

The truth is, Kentucky did get better, much better, over the course of the 2016 season, most in evidence in a 41-38 victory over No. 11 Louisville in the final regular season game. The Wildcats, 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the SEC, were 7-4 with returner Stephen Johnston starting at quarterback. The Wildcats return several more outstanding players on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, USM must replace 11 of 22 starters.

Still, you ask me, this betting line is all about the quarterback. For USM, gone is four-year starter Nick Mullens, who was terrific against Kentucky a year ago. Keon Howard replaced Mullens when he was injured last season and completed only 22 of 50 throws. He threw four interceptions, compared to one touchdown and had fumble issues as well. Howard and Kwadra Griggs, a juco transfer, battled all spring for the starting position and that will continue when fall practice begins. Obviously, oddsmakers are not impressed.

Most observers expect USM to become a run-first team with the fabulous Ito Smith returning at tailback. Surely, Kentucky remembers Smith ripping through the Wildcats for 173 yards and a score.

Conclusion: 10 points on the road seems like an awful lot to give, no matter who plays quarterback

• • •

There is no betting line on Mississippi State’s opener with Charleston Southern. If I were making one, I’d make the Bulldogs a 21-point favorite and I’d remind State fans the Bulldogs were a 28-point pick over South Alabama.

Charleston Southern is an above-average Division I FCS team that opened last season with an overtime loss to three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State on the road. North Dakota State won at No. 13 Iowa two weeks later.

Charleston Southern runs a triple-option offense out of a shotgun formation, something you don’t see every Saturday. Preparing for any triple-option is never easy, especially in these spread-happy days.

This is a game State should win and almost surely will win, but it is, to use some golf vernacular, no gimmee.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

One reply on “Oddsmakers, columnist don’t see eye-to-eye as new season kicks off”

  1. In 2016, Kentucky paid out $200,000 for the opportunity to lose. For two games (2018 & 2020), Auburn will write a $3,555,000 check to USM for the same privilege.

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