Sept. 21 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — No. 23 Cal (3-0) at Ole Miss (2-1)

(Chase Garbers photo courtesy Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 21, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Miss., Noon EDT.

No. 23 California looks to give College Football Playoff voters something to think about down the road Saturday when it closes its non-conference schedule looking to complete a home-and-home series sweep of Ole Miss.

The Bears are seeking their second 4-0 start in four years and already have a key Pac-12 victory to their credit with a road win over No. 14 and North Division foe Washington. Justin Wilcox’s team has not been very flashy — Cal’s three wins have come by a combined 21 points — but the defense has been opportunistic and effective when called upon.

Ole Miss (2-1) is looking to win a third straight contest after getting running back Scottie Phillips in gear the past two games. The senior workhorse has cleared 100 yards in each of the last two games while getting 26 carries in both contests as the Rebels wore down Southeastern Louisiana 40-29 last weekend.

The teams started this home-and-home series at Berkley in 2017 when the Bears scored 20 unanswered second-half points to defeat the Rebels 27-16. Cal’s defense recorded three interceptions in that game, with Cameron Goode sealing the victory by taking one back 32 yards for a touchdown with three minutes to play.

Wilcox puts perfect non-conference record on line

Wilcox has gone 8-0 in non-conference games since arriving at Cal in 2017, and this will be his third road contest as the Bears look to add Ole Miss to pelts at North Carolina and BYU during his tenure.

The Bears rode a 20-point first quarter to a 23-17 victory over North Texas last weekend, with Chase Garbers accounting for 199 yards of total offense and a passing touchdown. The defense chipped in with two takeaways while special teams got in on the act as Nikko Remigio’s 33-yard punt return fave Garbers a short field that concluded with him throwing a 36-yard scoring strike to Remigio.

A key point of improvement from last season to this season in the early going has been Gerbers and the offense cutting down on turnovers. Cal led the nation in giveaways last season with 31, including 20 interceptions. The Bears have only two thus far, both coming in their season-opening win over UC Davis, and Garbers has been picked off just once in 68 pass attempts after throwing 10 in 159 last season.

There is still plenty of room to improve, though, after Cal was held to 155 yards in the final three quarters against the Mean Green after totaling 129 in the first.

“For us it was all about the level of execution,” Wilcox told the San Jose Mercury News, “and we’ve just got a long way to go there.”

Wilcox noted this Ole Miss team is far different than the one Cal faced two years ago with Matt Luke now in charge, but he also felt there would be some familiarity in schemes given the Rebels’ offensive coordinator is former Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and the defense is run by ex-Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre.

“A lot of changes…Personnel changes, scheme changes. There’s a lot change, They’ve got some really talented players, no doubt about it, that jump off the tape,” Wilcox said at his media availability. “We know a couple of their coaches (offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre). We’ve competed against them for a long time, so we know what kind of coaches they are. They’ll have those guys ready to play, and they’ve got some real talented players. It will be a great challenge for our team in every phase.”

Update (9/19/19): Cal has some issues on the offensive line with injuries. They have three injured linemen including junior Valentino Daltoso, has an ankle injury. Though Wilcox said “everybody should be good to go,” on Monday. On Wendesday, he was asked bout the injuries to the linemen along with running back Christopher Brown Jr. and outside linebackers Cameron Goode, Trevin Paul and Ben Hawk Schrider and said, “we’re hopeful.”

Rebels looking to emulate Cal’s success

Luke’s decision to bring in both Rodriguez and MacIntyre is part of a bigger overall change in philosophy on both sides of the ball. The Rebels have gone back to a more traditional offense, with Rodriguez leaning more on the ground game with Phillips, Snoop Conner, and Jerrion Early.

That was most apparent in the fourth quarter of the win over Southeastern Louisiana in which Ole Miss rank the ball 13 times in their 15 offensive plays with Conner and Early doing most of the work. The Rebels ran the ball 50 times for 220 yards against the Lions, and Rodriguez thinks Phillips is capable of handling the heavy workload established in the last two games.

“He’s in good enough shape to carry it 20, 30 times,” Rodriguez said of Phillips to the Clarion Ledger. “The biggest thing for us is to make sure [Jerrion] Ealy and Snoop [Conner] get their carries as well. We have to be conscious of that.”

Though Rodriguez is drilling a run-first mentality into the offense, quarterback Matt Corral is making progress directing it. The redshirt freshman has thrown for 578 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception and has had back-to-back 200-yard efforts.

“I started feeling comfortable, really, after Arkansas,” he told 247Sports, “and being comfortable in that game environment. It’s like, ‘OK, we’re here.’ It’s just like practice. You know they move a little faster because that’s their starting D.’ They said it feels different when you’re out there on the field. When it’s your first time, yeah, obviously it does. When you get out there and finally figure it out and you know what you’re doing and you have confidence in what you’re doing, all that goes away.”

MacIntyre’s system has taken hold in the last two games, especially against the run. The Rebels have held opponents to 127 yards combined after being gashed for 192 in their season-opening 15-10 loss at Memphis. Ole Miss has held teams to 20.3 points and 367.7 yards per game, noticeable improvements on the 36.2 and 483.4 averages of last season.

Notable Trends

Ole Miss is:

  • 5-15-1 ATS in its last 21 games vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 0-5 ATS in its last five games following a straight up win.
  • 1-4 ATS in its last five home games.

Ole Miss is:

  • 5-15-1 ATS in its last 21 games vs. above-.500 teams.
  • 0-5 ATS in its last five games following a straight up win.
  • 1-4 ATS in its last five home games.

*****5-Star Pick*****

Ole Miss UNDER 22 points (-105)

Since the start of last season, Cal’s defense has traveled exceptionally well, holding its last six opponents to 24 or fewer points. Ole Miss does not offer a ringing endorsement offensively, having scored 31 points against a rebuilding Arkansas team and 40 against FCS opponent Southeast Louisiana — both at home. The Rebels were also held to 10 by a Memphis team playing a season opener with a new defensive coordinator.

****4-Star Pick****

UNDER 42 points (-110)

This line has dipped two points since opening at 44 as bettors are coming around to this game being a run-first rock fight. Cal’s defense does a good job getting off the field — it has allowed just 16 third-down conversions on 49 attempts, and that 32.7 percent success rate is 43rd in the country.

Ole Miss has looked better offensively the last two games, but Memphis held the Rebels to 1 for 10 on third down, and the Bears are arguably a better defensive unit than the Tigers. Cal has delivered for under bettors of late, hitting 10 of 11 on the road and seven of eight in non-conference play.

***3-Star Picks***

Cal +2.5 (-110)

This game actually opened with the Bears as 1.5-point favorites before swinging to the home team. Cal is not about flash and sizzle, just a methodical way in getting results. Garbers’ inconsistent accuracy is a concern, but if he continues to avoid interceptions, it gives Cal’s defense the chance to make an impact.

Wilcox’s teams have been fast starters in each of his three seasons at Berkley, and the places the Bears won previously — Chapel Hill and Provo — are not the easiest of venues, especially the latter. This will be the best non-conference team Cal has faced in his tenure, but the expectation is his side gets the job done.

Ole Miss -0.5 first half (-110)

Two parts are at play here, the first being a kickoff for the Bears that is 9 a.m. local time to them. That will do Cal no favors, and Ole Miss has held leads by a touchdown or more in its two home wins. The Bears were down at halftime at Washington earlier this season before rallying to win and are a team that does not get rattled easily, so a halftime led for Ole Miss would not be surprising.

UNDER 20.5 points 1st half (-121)

The low-side hook prevents an aggressive play here, but Cal’s defense coupled with skepticism about Ole Miss’ offense still makes the under the play. The Bears have yielded 23 first-half points in their three games this season, while Ole Miss has totaled 10 first-half points in its two games versus FBS opponents.

The teams also played to a 23-point first-half in Berkley two years ago, and the belief is Cal’s defense does not give up 16 this time around.


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