No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss: Sugar Bowl preview, best bets

Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 8 Ole Miss

Location: New Orleans | Time: 8:45 p.m. ET (Jan. 1) | Ole Miss -1 | Total: 55

How these teams got here

Baylor (11-2): The unexpected Big 12 champs started the season 4-0 after beating Iowa State 31-29 in a thriller at home. Baylor lost the following week at Oklahoma State but then beat West Virginia, BYU and Texas to move to 7-1. The Bears inexplicably lost to TCU on Nov. 6 to drop to 7-2 but were still alive in the Big 12 title race after beating Oklahoma 27-14 to move to 8-2. An OSU win over OU put Baylor in the Big 12 title game and the Bears then got revenge over the Cowboys with an incredible goal-line stop in the final seconds to win the conference and keep OSU out of the College Football Playoff.

Ole Miss (10-2): The Rebels won 10 games in the regular season for the first time in school history in 2021. Ole Miss started the season 3-0 before losing to Alabama by 21 in a game in which none of Lane Kiffin’s fourth-down conversion attempts worked. Ole Miss then won three more games before losing 31-20 at Auburn on Oct. 30.

The season ended with a four-game win streak that included a victory over old coach Hugh Freeze and Liberty, a 29-19 win over Texas A&M and a 10-point win over Mississippi State. The 6-2 SEC record was good enough for Ole Miss to finish second in the SEC West behind Alabama.

WACO, TX -NOVEMBER 27: Abram Smith #7 of the Baylor Bears carries the ball against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first half at McLane Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Abram Smith of Baylor carries the ball against Texas Tech in the first half at McLane Stadium on Nov. 27, 2021, in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Players to know

Baylor RB Abram Smith: Smith has been one of the most under-appreciated running backs in the country. He has 232 carries for 1,429 yards and 12 touchdowns and enters the Sugar Bowl 119 yards from the Baylor single-season rushing record. Smith has rushed for over 100 yards in eight of Baylor’s games this season after playing as a linebacker in 2020. Smith played on the defensive side of the ball a season ago after rushing for 46 yards on 12 carries in 10 games his first two seasons at Baylor.

Ole Miss QB Matt Corral: We had to go with the obvious candidate here. Corral finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting and is the catalyst for the Ole Miss offense. He’s 258-of-378 passing for 3,333 yards and 20 TDs with just four interceptions and he’s also rushed for 11 TDs and nearly 600 yards. Corral has accounted for at least one touchdown in all 12 of Ole Miss’ games so far this season and it’ll be a shock if he’s not running or throwing for multiple TDs in his final game in a Rebel uniform on Saturday.

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 25: Ole' Miss quarterback Matt Corral (2) in action during the college football game between the Ole' Miss Rebels and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on November 25, 2021, at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, MS. (Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral (2) finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting this season. (Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What’s on the line

Baylor: The Bears are in the Sugar Bowl for the second time in three seasons and are looking for their first major bowl win in a long, long time. The Bears lost the 2020 Sugar Bowl to Georgia and lost the Fiesta Bowl after the 2013 season and the Cotton Bowl after the 2014 season. While Baylor has won smaller bowls like the Texas Bowl and Alamo Bowl in the 2000s, you have to go back to 1979 and a Peach Bowl win at the end of an 8-4 season to find a current New Year’s Six game that Baylor won.

Ole Miss: The only thing at stake for Ole Miss is the winningest season in school history. No big deal, right? Ole Miss has won 10 games in eight different seasons but has never won 11 games in a single season. This is the first season since 2015 that Ole Miss has won 10 games — and the Rebels also capped that season with a Sugar Bowl win. Oh, and every time Ole Miss has won 10 games in a season it has also won its bowl game. No pressure.

Best bets

Nick Bromberg: I feel like I’ve inadvertently been picking against Baylor all season long and am doing so again. Corral is the best player in this game and Ole Miss’ defense has gotten better over the course of the season. If the Rebels can slow down Smith and the Baylor run game, Corral should make enough plays with both his arm and his legs. Pick: Ole Miss -1

Sam Cooper: This is a really fun matchup. I really respect the job Jeff Grimes has done with this Baylor offense and the BU defense has been consistent all year long. In the end, Ole Miss has more weapons and has a defense that got better and better as the season progressed. I'll take Lane and the boys as a short favorite. Pick: Ole Miss -1