Sugar Bowl Preview: Ole Miss vs. Baylor

Most books have Ole Miss listed as a short favorite vs. Baylor on Saturday's Sugar Bowl showdown in New Orleans.

No. 7 Baylor Bears vs. No. 8 Ole Miss Rebels

Line: Ole Miss -1.5

Total: 55.5

Where: Caesars Superdome

When: Saturday, 1/1 at 8:45 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

While there are plenty of players opting out of New Year’s Six games, Saturday night’s Sugar Bowl between No. 7 Baylor and No. 8 Ole Miss remains unscathed.

The Rebels wrapped up a 10-2 regular season with a win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl—quarterback Matt Corral is choosing to play in this game. Baylor knocked off Oklahoma State to win the Big 12 Championship Game.

The Bears are not going to have the MVP of that game available, but it is not due to an opt out. Backup quarterback Blake Shapen is recovering from a shoulder injury that he sustained in the win over Oklahoma State. However, starting quarterback Gerry Bohanon is expected to start after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Ole Miss opened as a 2.5-point favorite before shifting to Baylor -1.5 earlier this month. It has seen some correction earlier this week, making the Rebels a slight favorite once again. The total opened at 50.5 and has seen a large adjustment up to 55.5.

Corral announced that he would enter the 2022 NFL Draft prior to leading his team to a win over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. He made the surprising decision to take the field for Saturday night’s game against Baylor. Corral led Ole Miss to the fourth-most yards per game (506.7) in college football this season.

“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.”

He was one of four FBS quarterbacks with 20 passing touchdowns and at least 10 rushing touchdowns, which led to a seventh-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting. Star defensive lineman Sam Williams is also going to be on the field, which means there will not be a healthy opt-out in this game.

Corral was explosive in the passing attack, but the running game was equally as effective. The Rebels are the only team in college football with four players tallying at least 500 rushing yards. Running back Jerrion Ealy leads the way with 121 carries for 703 yards and five touchdowns.

This will be the final game for offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who is headed to Oklahoma. He is scheming against a Baylor defense that ranks No. 35, allowing 347.8 yards per game.

The Bears closed the regular season with a three-game winning streak that included a win over then-No. 8 Oklahoma, booking their spot in the Big 12 title game. They took advantage of that opportunity, knocking the conference out of the College Football Playoff with an upset over Oklahoma State.

Shapen completed 23 of 28 pass attempts for 180 yards and three touchdowns, earning MVP honors in the process. He suffered a shoulder injury in that game and is not expected to play on Saturday. Fortunately for the Bears, the month off has given Bohanon time to heal from a hamstring injury.

The junior signal-caller completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 2,160 yards and 17 touchdowns before missing the last two games. Bohanon is a dual-threat quarterback as well, rushing for 303 yards and nine touchdowns. Running back Abram Smith led the rushing attack with 232 carries for 1,429 yards and 12 scores.

Smith averaged 6.2 yards per carry, while backup Trestan Ebner averaged 5.4 yards per touch. Wide receiver Tyquan Thornton caught a team-high 61 passes for 946 yards and nine touchdowns. He is facing an Ole Miss defense that is No. 100, allowing 429.1 yards per game.

Baylor has covered the spread in nine of its last 12 games, while Ole Miss is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games. The Rebels have gone ‘under’ the total in each of their last seven contests—Baylor has cashed the ‘under’ in five of its last six games.

The pick: Ole Miss -1.5

These have both been profitable teams that should be motivated by energetic head coaches, making this a fun bowl game to handicap. There are just a few small things that I view as negatives for Baylor, which is why the line has swung back towards Ole Miss. The Bears are fortunate to have Bohanon back at quarterback, but it’s not clear whether he is 100 percent healthy. On the other side, Corral’s decision to play speaks volumes of where this program is at under Lane Kiffin. Corral loves playing with this group of guys and is going to have the full playbook at his disposal on Saturday night. I do not expect the Bears’ offense to be able to keep pace in what could wind up being one of the best bowl games this season.

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