Why Ole Miss football will (or won't) cover a massive betting spread at Georgia Tech

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD − Even as Ole Miss football gears up to play its first Power 5 opponent of the season, the Rebels are still huge betting favorites.

The Tipico sportsbook and USA TODAY Sports list the No. 17 Rebels (2-0) as 16.5-point favorites to defeat Georgia Tech (1-1) on Saturday in Atlanta (2:30 p.m. CT, ABC). With a point total set at 62.5 points, that means Ole Miss is essentially projected by the oddsmakers to win by a score of approximately 40-23.

ESPN's predictive model SP+ is even higher on the Rebels, projecting a 43-15 win where the under still hits. This isn't much of a surprise for a matchup that SP+ forecasts as the No. 92 team in the country hosting the No. 6 team in the country.

Georgia Tech has been outscored 141-10 in its last three games against ranked opponents. Ole Miss has outscored unranked non-conference opponents 272-89 under coach Lane Kiffin. Recent history points toward an authoritative Rebels victory.

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But every matchup has its own quirks. Here's a breakdown of why Ole Miss will − or won't − cover its massive spread against Georgia Tech.

In Ole Miss' favor

Georgia Tech's offense hasn't inspired much confidence through two weeks. The Yellow Jackets have the 11th-worst offense in the FBS by yards per game and the eighth-worst by passing yards per game. They are one of 11 teams with a passer efficiency rating below 100 and one of seven teams averaging 5 or fewer yards per pass attempt. The Yellow Jackets rank in the bottom 10 nationally in third-down conversion rate and in the bottom 20 in trips to the red zone.

Ole Miss has held seven-straight opponents to 21 points or fewer, the longest active streak among Power 5 teams. The Rebels have been stellar to start the year, ranking No. 6 in scoring defense and in the top 20 nationally in third-down conversion rate allowed and number of red zone trips allowed. Ole Miss has only allowed four plays of 20 yards or longer; among SEC teams only Georgia and Texas A&M have allowed fewer.

None of this mentions Ole Miss' dynamic ground attack, which ranks No. 10 nationally in yards per carry and No. 11 in rushing yards per game. Running backs Zach Evans and Quinshon Judkins both rank in the top 30 nationally in rushing yards per game, and third back Ulysses Bentley IV was a first-team All-AAC honoree just two years ago.

In Georgia Tech's favor

Georgia Tech's defense has actually played pretty well this year. The Yellow Jackets held Clemson to 119 rushing yards on 40 carries. They have 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks in two games. They haven't allowed a rush of 20 yards or longer yet.

The Yellow Jackets' pass defense has been a little more susceptible to big plays but has mitigated that with three interceptions.

The verdict

Georgia Tech's run defense has held up well this year, but the strength-on-strength matchup probably still falls in Ole Miss' favor. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 24 first downs per game, the 20th-most in college football, which sets up Ole Miss' up-tempo offense to thrive on sustained drives.

On the flip side, Georgia Tech's offense has been stuck in the mud and Ole Miss' defense has been as solid as they come. Sure, the Yellow Jackets are more talented than the Rebels' first two opponents, but not so much more talented to expect an upset.

Ole Miss should be able to hold Georgia Tech's tepid offense to no more than two touchdowns. If that's the case, the Rebels will need to score around 30 points to cover the spread, which certainly feels doable.

Contact Nick Suss at nsuss@gannett.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.