Two high-powered offenses will do battle in New Orleans on New Year's Day when No. 6 Baylor faces No. 8 Ole Miss in a game with plenty of potential for high scores and dazzling offense.
Ole Miss is no stranger to the Sugar Bowl, having contested it nine times in school history. They are the highest-ranked SEC school not in the playoffs, and this will be the Rebels' sixth appearance in a New Year's Six bowl game in the past 18 years. They are coming off their first 10-win season in school history, which seems rather inconceivable.
Their only losses in 2021? To Alabama and Auburn.
Baylor is fresh off its first Big 12 Championship win, denying Oklahoma State by a single yard to earn its way to Caesars Superdome.
The Bears enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2021, erasing last year's dismal 2-7 record to finish sixth in the nation. The school has competed in the Sugar Bowl twice before and has a 1-1 record in the New Year's Six game.
This will be just the second time Baylor and Ole Miss face off. The first was a 20-10 Bears win on September 6, 1975.
2021 Sugar Bowl Info
Date: Saturday, January 1
Start Time: 8:45 p.m.
Location: Caesars Superdome in New Orleans
Odds: Ole Miss -2
Ole Miss under head coach Lane Kiffin oversaw one of the most explosive offenses in the country this year, ranking 18th overall.
Quarterback Matt Corral established himself as a Heisman Trophy contender with 3,339 passing yards, 20 TDs and just four interceptions. On the ground, he added 597 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was stellar while operating Kiffin's offense and was key in its efficiency this season.
Also key was the Rebels' improved defensive play.
A year ago, the team gave up 38.3 yards per game on average. This year, there was a steep decline to 25.
Baylor is a veteran team, with 29 seniors on the roster, and have two quarterbacks capable of leading the team to victory in New Orleans. The question is which one will get the start in the biggest game of the year.
Starter Gerry Bohanon in a dual-threat. A hamstring injury sent him to the sideline and allowed freshman Blake Shapen to start the final two games of the season. And he took advantage of his opportunity, tossing five touchdowns while completing 69 percent of his passes with no interceptions.
If Bohanon can play, expect the junior to start. Any struggles, though, and Shapen may see time on the field as Baylor chases its second Sugar Bowl win.
The Bears, despite their recent history as a high-scoring, offensive-minded school, have seen their defense transformed under second-year head coach Dave Aranda, allowing just 19 points a game. The squad is a top 20 defense and has a knack for creating turnovers (16 INT, 16 fumble recoveries). Baylor also turned in 32 sacks this season.
The key to the game will be whether Kiffin can devise an offensive scheme that can overcome his opponent's stingy defense. While he will have almost an entire month to do so, Aranda and his staff will have the same amount of time to put together a game plan to thwart anything Kiffin develops.
It will be a game of strategy and should be one of the most intriguing of the New Year's Day matchups as a result. It is also a showdown between two coaches of different backgrounds.
Ross Dellenger @RossDellenger
Dec. 4, 2011: Assistant Dave Aranda is fired, evicted from his apartment and financially broke. Dec. 4, 2021: Head coach Dave Aranda leads #Baylor to a Big 12 championship. On the meteoric rise of college football’s most stoic & cerebral man - https://t.co/9BawszRfrD
Kiffin is the son of legendary NFL defensive coordinator Monte and has had numerous, high-profile opportunities over the course of his coaching career. Aranda came from nothing, broke and evicted, to work his way into one of the most prestigious bowl games on the schedule.
The dynamics between the programs, the dichotomy between the coaches' stories and the fact that there is so little history between the teams only serve to enhance the aura of January 1's most must-watch game.