This is one of those games we love in college football but comes around far too rarely. It’s SEC vs. Big 12 in the month of September. The high-flying Ole Miss Rebels vs. the higher-flying Texas Tech Red Raiders have us all hoping that the scoreboard operator at NRG Stadium has his thumbs in midseason form. This one is going to be an adrenaline kick, to say the least.
We all know it’s very early here, but do you know which team needs this more than the other? If you said “the Ole Miss Rebels” then you are right. With no postseason available to them last year and finishing a mere .500, ole Johnny Reb is going to be chomping at the bit to get back on the field and prove their worth.
But don’t think Double T is going to be without purpose here. The Red Raiders have not lived up to snuff the last few years and head coach Kliff Kingsbury is starting to feel the heat under his britches. A win here would definitely hold off the dogs for KK and his TT squad.
Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: NRG Stadium (Houston)
Spread: Texas Tech -2
Three Things to Watch
1. The mirror image
Neither offense will come as a surprise to the defenses as both teams use a version of the “air raid” which relies on athletic quarterbacks, utilizing a timely running game and attacking the open spaces in the defense. Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo comes from the Mike Leach coaching tree and is good buds with Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was Leach’s quarterback in the early 2000s. But the Ole Miss defense was dead last in the SEC a year ago, giving up 460 yards and 34 points per game while the Red Raiders showed improvement on that side of the ball in 2017. Texas Tech made a 30-spot jump in scoring defense (from 128th to 98th) and an even bigger one against the run (116th to 62nd) compared to 2016. That said, the two units were really close to each other in terms of total and scoring defense last season, so while most of the emphasis may be placed on the offenses, each defense has plenty to prove as well.
2. Texas Tech O-line vs. Ole Miss D-line
There is a ton of new faces at the skill positions for Tech, but there is good news. First, even with an influx of new talent, the Red Raiders always seem to post outrageous offensive numbers. Second, the offensive line is one of the most experienced units in the country with nearly 100 starts returning. Giving the inexperienced QB combo of McLane Carter and Jett Duffey enough time to throw will be a huge factor as they look to pick apart the Rebel defense. Keep an eye on how much pressure Ole Miss can apply to the Tech field generals.
3. The old vs. the new
These two teams will come from different quarterback situations. Ole Miss signal-caller Jordan Tu’amu got the start in the final five games a year ago after Shea Patterson was injured. He threw for nearly 1,700 yards in those games and led the Rebels to a big win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. For Texas Tech, it's been a two-way battle between Carter, who attempted 46 passes last season, and Duffey, who is a little more athletic. But neither one comes with much experience and will face pressure from both the Rebel D and their own coaching staff, which would like to identify a permanent starter. Also, Ole Miss has a veteran secondary that plays with a lot of discipline, so the Raider gunslingers will have to be cautious in avoiding the turnover bug.
As Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke pointed out, this is “big time football right off the bat” for the Rebels and Red Raiders. It’s good to see a matchup like this in the opening weekend. Especially since these two teams will probably put on a pretty good firework show.
Both Ole Miss and Texas Tech have just 11 games the last two seasons and would love to get this victory to jumpstart their return to relevance in 2018. Most of the time, when it’s early in the season, you give the defense a slight advantage over the offense. And something tells me the youth on the Rebels' defense will play better than the youth in Raiders' offense, though Tech will still get its points.
Prediction: Ole Miss 38, Texas Tech 28
-- Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.