No. 7 Baylor faces No. 8 Ole Miss in compelling Sugar Bowl matchup

NCAA Football

With the NFL looming on the horizon, Matt Corral gets one final chance to quarterback Ole Miss.

After leading the Rebels to a 10-2 record following a season-ending 31-21 Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State, Corral and the No. 8 Rebels will face No. 7 Baylor in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night.

In one of the more intriguing New Year’s Day Six bowls, Corral decided to play for the Rebels – who opened as a two-point betting favorite — after announcing before the Egg Bowl that he would enter the 2022 NFL Draft.

His presence will allow head coach Lane Kiffin and outgoing offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby – headed to Oklahoma — another chance to produce numbers that slotted the Rebels fourth in total offense (506.7 yards per game) – 282.4 passing, 224.2 rushing.

One of only four FBS quarterbacks with 20 passing touchdowns and at least 10 rushing scores (he has 11), the Ventura, Calif., native finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting.

“It never crossed my mind” to sit out the game, Corral said. “I’m healthy … I’m going to give these guys everything I got until it’s over.”

Ole Miss is the nation’s only offense with four rushers with at least 500 yards – Jerrion Ealy (703), Snoop Conner (605), Corral (597) and Henry Parrish Jr. (542).

Explosive defensive lineman Sam Williams, who set a school record with 12.5 sacks, will also play for Ole Miss, which has no opt-outs for the New Orleans classic.

The Rebels sport a 6-3 record in the Sugar Bowl, including a 48-20 victory over Oklahoma State after the 2015 season.

Ole Miss is 12-2 in its past 14 bowl games dating back to the 1992 Liberty Bowl and 10-4 in bowls against current Big 12 members.

A second-year head coach at his current school like Kiffin, Dave Aranda has built Baylor (11-2) into a hard-nosed team that played strong defense, ran the ball well and got consistent quarterback play on the way to claiming its third Big 12 title in a 21-16 win over Oklahoma State in Dallas on Dec. 4.

That stout defense and a strong running game behind Abram Smith (1,429 yards, 12 TDs) and Trestan Ebner (763 yards) will be key to controlling the pace for Baylor, which is making its second Sugar Bowl appearance in three years after losing 26-14 to Georgia two seasons ago.

In its only other Sugar Bowl appearance — at Tulane Stadium in 1957 — Baylor pulled off a 13-7 upset of No. 2 Tennessee, which was undefeated and led by Heisman runner-up Johnny Majors.

Tied with Iowa for 14th in scoring defense, Baylor yields 19.15 points, while Corral and crew score 36 per outing.

“I think it’s a good contrast in styles, and we’re looking forward to that challenge,” said Aranda, who was LSU’s first-year defensive coordinator in 2016 when Kiffin was Alabama’s offensive coordinator in a 10-0 Crimson Tide win.

Out for two games with a hamstring injury, quarterback Gerry Bohanon is healthy and will lead the Baylor offense.

Aranda said Monday that backup Blake Shapen, who relieved Bohanon in a win over Kansas State and was triumphant in two subsequent starts including the Big 12 title game, has a shoulder injury and likely will not play.

The contest marks just the second all-time meeting between the schools: Baylor won 20-10 at home on Sept. 6, 1975.

–Field Level Media

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