Here is everything you need to know about the Baylor Bears and the Ole Miss Rebels in our Baylor vs. Ole Miss Sugar Bowl preview.
7:45 p.m. Central Time, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Radio: Baylor: Baylor IMG Sports Network
Records: Baylor: 11-2; Ole Miss: 10-2.
Ranking: Baylor: No. 7 (CFP): Ole Miss: No. 8 (CFP).
Last game: Baylor: def. Oklahoma State, 21-16 (Big 12 Championship game); Ole Miss: def. Mississippi State, 31-21.
Fun Fact: Baylor and Ole Miss have played each other just one time. Back in 1975, the pair opened the season against each other in Waco, with Baylor winning the game, 20-10. That was a rather uneventful years for Baylor under legendary head coach Grant Teaff, as the Bears went 3-6-2. Baylor had six future NFL players on that team, including leading rusher Cleveland Franklin. Ole Miss, under Ken Cooper, lost its first three games before finishing 6-5 that season.
QB Gerry Bohanon: After helping Baylor win a Big 12 title down the stretch, Blake Shapen is out, so it’s back to Bohanon. He threw for 2,160 yards and 17 touchdowns, while rushing for another 303 yards, before he got hurt. Shapen took over and got the Bears to the Big 12 title, as the threw for 596 yards and five touchdowns. Bohanon was worthy of this opportunity, regardless of Shapen’s health, but now we know it’s going to be Gerry on Saturday night in New Orleans.
RB Abram Smith: The NFL is going to love this guy, even if it doesn’t value running backs like it used to. He earned All-Big 12 First Team honors after rushing for 1,429 yards and 12 touchdowns as the Bears head into their bowl game. Scouts will also love his willingness to change positions, as he played both offense and defense at Baylor.
DB Jalen Pitre: He’s the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and it’s well-deserved. He had 70 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defended. Like Terrel Bernard, his partner-in-crime at linebacker, he was the heartbeat of this Bears defense throughout the season. The NFL awaits, and the league is getting a safety that can make an immediate impact.
QB Matt Corral: He can come back, but it’s widely assumed the All-SEC Second-Team selection will declare early for the NFL Draft after the Sugar Bowl. To many scouts, he’s a potential first-round pick and there are several teams in the NFL that can use his talents. Corral threw for 3,339 yards, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for another 597 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’ll be hard for a quality Baylor defense to stop.
AP Jerrion Ealy: The All-SEC team made Ealy an all-purpose player, and for good reason. Ealy rushed for 703 yards and five touchdowns out of the backfield, and then caught another 30 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned 12 kickoffs. If Corral doesn’t get you, Ealy can. And, with three years at Ole Miss, he can turn pro after the season, if he so chooses.
DL Sam Williams: The All-SEC First Team selection is one of the key players to watch on the Rebels’ defense. He had 56 tackles, a team-leading 12 1/2 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries. The super senior is headed for the NFL next, and he should be drafted come April.
Most didn’t expect Baylor to be much of a factor in the Big 12 race, but the Bears, under second-year head coach Dave Aranda, crashed the party Oklahoma has been hosting in the Big 12 for a half-decade. Baylor made it clear it would be a factor when it beat Iowa State on the road in late September. After a loss to Oklahoma State the following week, the Bears won three straight against West Virginia, BYU and Texas before an unexpected loss to TCU. From there, the Bears had to win out to get to the Big 12 Championship game, and that’s what they did. Baylor defeated Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas Tech to secure their berth against Oklahoma State. There, the Bears beat the Cowboys, 21-16, to win the Big 12 Championship game and represent the Big 12 in the Sugar Bowl. And, if you’re worried success has gone to Aranda’s head, while everyone else worried about the College Football Playoff selections the day after winning the title, he was on a plane headed out to recruit.
Lane Kiffin’s second year as head coach was a banner year for Ole Miss football. Ole Miss started the season 3-0 before losing to then-No. 1 Alabama in the SEC opener. From there, the Rebels beat Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU before an unexpected loss to Auburn. With that basically eliminating the Rebels from College Football Playoff consideration, Ole Miss won its last four games, including wins over then-No. 11 Texas A&M and an Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State to clinch the program’s first 10-win season in history. Yes, (Archie and Eli) Manning U had never won 10 games before this season. Kiffin became a hot candidate for coaching jobs after the season, but it looks like he and Ole Miss fit each other well.
Prediction: Baylor 31, Ole Miss 28
With a month to prepare, I always take the team with the better defense, and that’s Baylor.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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