In one of college football’s most interesting storylines this week, Hugh Freeze returns to Oxford, Mississippi, where he led Ole Miss for five seasons. After multiple NCAA and university violations, the head coach resigned in disgrace, but he has since found a home coaching the Liberty Flames. Now, the Flames will visit the Lane Kiffin-coached Rebels for what should be a fascinating matchup.
Ole Miss is favored at home by less than expected, given their SEC credentials compared with relative newcomer Liberty. The latest college football betting odds have the Rebels favored by just 9.5 in what’s expected to be a high-scoring affair (O/U 67.5).
The Hugh Freeze Resurgence
Until he resigned from Ole Miss in 2017, the current Liberty Flames head coach seemed destined for greatness. He had certainly found more success than most at a program that was more often than not an SEC doormat, and it seemed only a matter of time before he moved on to a bigger program.
Embroiled in controversy, Freeze wisely took some time off before finding a new home at a much smaller school in Liberty. But before long, he found himself right back in the national media for positive reasons, leading the Flames to a 9-1 regular season in 2020 and a bowl game win over G5 darling Coastal Carolina.
In his third year at Liberty, the Flames are 7-2, their losses by a combined total of six points. However, this team is strong on both sides of the ball, averaging over 37 points and giving up less than 18 per game.
As an independent, Liberty doesn’t quite fit into the P5/G5 paradigm, but they’re certainly closer to G5 based on their schedule. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to underestimate this squad or their head coach in an emotional matchup.
Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin has been an offensive juggernaut. Led by Heisman hopeful Matt Corral, they’re ripping off nearly 40 points per game. The problem has always been the other side of the ball: they give up almost 29 points and 430 yards per game.
Combine this with a disappointing loss last week at Auburn and an emotional matchup with a former coach, and it’s not too tough to see why they are only favored by 9.5 at home. The key to this game will be who can control the playing style.
Both teams can score, but Liberty is more consistent on defense. If they can get some key stops and keep this from becoming a shootout, they have a chance to keep it close. But if Ole Miss goes up early and gets the crowd involved in the early afternoon, they could run away with it.
ESPN has Ole Miss with a significant advantage, at nearly 82% chance to win. But there’s nothing about FPI that predicts a scoring outcome.
Even if this does turn into a shootout, Hugh Freeze’s Flames can likely still beat the spread. Consider the 52-51 thriller Ole Miss played against Arkansas back on October 10th. Outside of early-season inferior opponents, the Rebels haven’t beaten a team by more than 14.
I think a similar outcome is likely, which is why I’m picking Ole Miss to win but Liberty to beat the spread. I’ll also take the over, and I expect both teams to score in the 40s.
Do you think Ole Miss can cover? Place your bets at the Virginia sports betting or Mississippi sports betting pages.