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Ole Miss Rebels vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Preview and Prediction

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The players, coaches and fans have waited a full calendar year. Countless words have been spoken in coffee shops and on sports talk radio in the Magnolia State, and countless words have been written in newspapers, magazines and online. Following a 31-17 victory last season in Oxford, Ole Miss Rebels supporters have held bragging rights over their rivals from Starkville. And now, after 365 days, the Mississippi State Bulldogs have an opportunity for retribution in the Egg Bowl.

One of the most heated in-state rivalries in the nation, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will meet for the 112th time Saturday. The winner will hoist the Golden Egg trophy for the 88th time, and a victory for the Rebels would keep their hopes alive for an SEC Western Division title.

Ole Miss at Mississippi State

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 7:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Ole Miss -1

Three Things to Watch

1. The SEC’s Premier Quarterback Matchup

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Ole Miss and Mississippi State are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the Southeastern Conference in passing offense, respectively, and it’s not even close when compared to the rest of the league. The Rebels average 342.5 passing yards per game and the Bulldogs average 316.3 per contest. The Arkansas Razorbacks are a distant third with 279.0 passing yards on average.

A major part of that prolific passing production for Ole Miss is quarterback Chad Kelly, who leads the SEC with 3,504 passing yards – and needs only 39 yards to break Eli Manning’s single-season record. In his first year with the Rebels after transferring from junior college, Kelly has completed 64.8 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns (six shy of Manning’s single-season record) and 12 interceptions. The junior also has 353 rushing yards and a team-high nine touchdowns on 86 attempts.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott ranks second in the SEC with 3,159 passing yards, which is just 290 yards shy of his own school record for passing yards in a season (one of 36 records Prescott owns, including every school career passing record). This season, Prescott has completed 66.2 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions. The senior signal caller also leads the Bulldogs with 478 rushing yards and 12 TDs on 127 carries.

Prescott is one of just 12 players in college football history to pass for more than 8,000 yards in his career with more than 2,000 rushing yards. He is also just the fourth quarterback to throw for more than 60 touchdowns (he has 64 after last week’s five-score performance) and to also score 40 TDs on the ground.

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Game in Week 13

2. Does Either Defense Stand a Chance?

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In addition to the two best quarterbacks in the SEC, the 2015 Egg Bowl also includes some of the most dynamic wide receivers in the league – and arguably in the nation. Ole Miss junior wideout Laquon Treadwell is widely expected to become a first round pick in the next NFL Draft because of his combination of size, speed and athletic ability. The 6-foot-2, 229-pound Illinois native leads the SEC with 72 receptions and 1,060 receiving yards, and he ranks third in the league with eight touchdown catches.

Of course, Treadwell isn’t Kelly’s only weapon in the passing game. The Rebels also have the benefit of wide receivers Quincy Adeboyejo (35 receptions, 545 yards, 7 TD), Cody Core (30 receptions, 536 yards, 3 TD), Damore’ea Stringfellow (31 receptions, 419 yards, 3 TD) and tight end Evan Engram (30 receptions, 325 yards, 2 TD).

Mississippi State has a pro prospect of its own at wide receiver in 6-foot-5 junior De’Runnya Wilson, who is one of the best red zone receivers in the league and ranks second in the SEC with nine touchdown grabs. Wilson is State’s second leading receiver with 50 catches for 757 yards. Fred Ross leads the Bulldogs with 69 receptions and 816 receiving yards with four touchdowns.

Such talent at the quarterback and receiver positions will be a major challenge for two pass defenses that rank in the bottom half of the SEC statistically. Mississippi State has allowed 215 passing yards per game this season, which ranks No. 9 in the league and opponents have completed 61.2 percent of their passes against the Bulldogs, which ranks No. 10 in the league. Ole Miss has surrendered 255.2 passing yards per contest this year, which ranks No. 13 in the conference, and the Rebels have allowed 21 passing touchdowns this season, which is more than every other team in the SEC.

Related: 10 Greatest Games in Egg Bowl History

3. Who Will Make a Big Play on Defense?

On the bright side, both Ole Miss and Mississippi State rank in the top half of the SEC in interceptions. The Rebels have picked off 14 passes this season, which is tied for the second most in the league and the Landshark defense’s 20 takeaways this season are the third most in the conference. Mississippi State has 11 interceptions this year, which ranks No. 6, but the Bulldogs have recovered only one fumble and therefore have the fewest takeaways in the league with 12.

MSU also ranks sixth with 25 sacks this season, but Ole Miss has only recorded 19 sacks, which ranks tenth in the league, and both teams have a negative turnover margin. Mississippi State ranks No. 12 in the SEC with a minus-3 ratio while Ole Miss, but because the Rebels have a tendency to turn the football over more on offense, Ole Miss ranks No. 10 with a minus-2 ratio.

The game is expected to be a high-scoring affair, but the outcome is likely to hinge on a turnover or a pivotal fourth-down stop.

Final Analysis

Though they are the most recent winners in the Battle for the Golden Egg, Ole Miss has not beaten Mississippi State in Starkville since 2003. The last time the game was played at Davis Wade Stadium, Prescott became a folk hero after coming off the bench in the fourth quarter and almost single-handedly leading the Bulldogs to a 17-10 victory in overtime. Prescott’s legend has only grown since, as he’s become the most decorated quarterback in Mississippi State history and emerged as one of the greatest players ever in the SEC. With Prescott behind center and the home crowd behind him, expect Mississippi State to pull out a hard fought victory.

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Prediction: Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 34

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.