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Sugar Bowl Prediction and Preview: Baylor vs. Ole Miss

Allstate Sugar Bowl Prediction and Preview: Baylor Bears vs. Ole Miss Rebels

Wrap up the first day of 2022 with a Sugar Bowl pairing between two of 2021's surprise breakout teams.

Both Baylor head coach Dave Aranda and Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin saw promise from their teams in 2020, but the two meeting in a New Year's Six bowl with 21 combined wins exceeds most expectations.

Related: College Football Picks for Every Bowl Game in 2021-22

The similarities largely end there.

Baylor claimed its second-ever outright Big 12 championship and just the program's third outright conference title since the 1980 Bears won the old SWC behind an overwhelming defense. 

BU arrives in New Orleans boasting the nation's No. 14-ranked scoring defense, No. 15 rushing defense, and a passing defense that generated more interceptions (16) than touchdown passes allowed (12). Fittingly, the Bears sealed their place in the Sugar Bowl with a goal-line stand in the Big 12 Championship Game. 

Ole Miss completed its first 10-win regular season in program history averaging a hair less than 36 points per game. The offensive chops Kiffin exhibited in the 2000s as a coordinator at USC (2005-06) and in the 2010s at Alabama (2014-16) translated nicely in Oxford thanks to playmakers like quarterback Matt Corral.

The contrast in styles shapes an exciting Sugar Bowl.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 7 Baylor (11-2) vs. No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2)

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 1 at 8:45 p.m. ET
Where: Caesars Superdome (New Orleans)
TV: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -1.5

When Baylor Has the Ball

Baylor's offense functioned as a complement to its stifling defense, controlling the ball for 31:37 per game thanks to the backfield tandem of Trestan Ebner and Abram Smith. Smith averaged a healthy 6.2 yards per carry while taking on a heavy workload (232 rushes), but the Bears lose little from Ebner's change of pace.

Quarterback Gerry Bohanon, who rushed for 303 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games, is expected to start, per the Dallas Morning-News, after a late-season hamstring injury.

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Bohanon's presence bodes well for Baylor establishing the run on an Ole Miss defense that was vulnerable in that phase. The Rebels surrendered 183 yards per game and 24 rushing touchdowns with a 4.3-per carry yield.

Bohanon had a breakout year passing with 196.8 yards per game on 64.3 percent passing. He had 17 touchdowns to just six interceptions, with Tyquan Thornton (61 rec., 946 yds., 9 TDs) as his main target.

When Ole Miss Has the Ball

Corral had a Heisman Trophy finalist-caliber season, passing for 20 touchdowns against just four interceptions and rushing for another 11 scores.

Corral's mobility nicely complements a multi-dimensional rushing attack with running backs Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner, and Henry Parrish Jr., all of whom had more than 100 carries in the regular season. All three average better than five yards per carry, and Conner rushed for 13 touchdowns.

Ealy contributes as a dependable pass catcher, as well, his 30 grabs second only to Dontario Drummond's 67.

Ole Miss' offensive production is especially remarkable considering the Rebels' lack of any All-SEC linemen. The front can expect a handful from an aggressive Baylor defense that produced 94 tackles for loss through 13 games.

Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Pitre's 17.5 tackles for a loss leads the way, and he's one of three Bears who racked up double-digit stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Final Analysis

Styles make fights, and whichever side imposes its brand of football on the other early should be in good shape. Baylor isn't equipped to play a shootout, having gone since Halloween weekend without hitting 30 points.

Ole Miss thrives with its explosive offense and went winless in games it scored fewer than 27 points.

Baylor's defense should be able to make hay against the Ole Miss offensive line, limiting Corral's effectiveness in the passing game and grinding down the run game.

Prediction: Baylor 24, Ole Miss 20 

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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45 and subscribe to his newsletter, The Press Break.