The Allstate Sugar Bowl comes down to a pair of teams who are a little disappointed they're in Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans this weekend, instead of playing for a shot at a national title on Jan. 13. Georgia (11-2, 7-2 SEC) had a chance to get into the College Football Playoff with a win over LSU in the SEC Championship Game, but was boat-raced by the top-ranked and title game favorite Tigers 37-10 instead. Baylor (11-2, 8-2 Big 12) had similar hopes in the Big 12 Championship Game, but got edged in overtime by Oklahoma 30-23 to keep the Bears from a fairytale-like story of making the playoff just two years after a 1-11 season.
This will be the second straight year the Silver Britches are in the Sugar Bowl, after they lost 28-21 to Texas last year, despite being a 12-point favorite. Baylor is playing in its first Sugar Bowl since 1957 where they beat Tennessee 13-7, and just the third trip to a BCS/New Year's Six bowl (2013 Fiesta Bowl, 2014 Cotton Bowl).
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Georgia (11-2) vs. Baylor (11-2)
Kickoff: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 8:45 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
Spread: Georgia -7
When Georgia Has the Ball
Who will actually play? Georgia could be hamstrung by a number of players that won't be available for the game. It has already been announced that starting offensive tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson will sit out to prepare for the NFL draft. Starting offensive guard Ben Cleveland also is expected to miss the game due to academic issues. Wide receiver Lawrence Cager has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and is unlikely to take part and fellow wideout Dominick Blaylock tore his ACL vs. LSU. Also, running back D'Andre Swift bruised a shoulder vs. Georgia Tech and only had five touches vs. the Tigers. Also, running back Brian Herrien and defensive tackle Tyler Clark did not make the trip to New Orleans. That's a lot of holes to fill.
Will the REAL Jake Fromm finally re-emerge? Man, it's been a crappy second half of the season for the Bulldog field general. Through the first eight games, Fromm was 143-of-204 for 1,685 yards, which is good for a 70 percent completion rate. But in the last five games, he hasn't hit better than 50 percent of his passes in any of those games, going 71-of-151 for 925 yards, which is a completion rate of 47 percent. This is very unexpected, but Fromm is a quarterback who is trending in the wrong direction as he reaches the end of his draft-eligible junior year.
Protect Fromm's backside. And by "backside" I mean both his blind side and him landing on his butt. Baylor boasts one of the nation's best pass rushers in James Lynch, who has 12.5 sacks this season. And since we've already established that three O-linemen will be sitting this one out, Lynch has to be licking his chops to get at Fromm. And get this, the Bears have a school-record 43 sacks and lead the nation with 23 sacks when rushing only three defenders. With Cager sitting out and Swift possibly not 100 percent, Georgia has no explosive difference-makers out there and might be pretty easy to defend.
When Baylor Has the Ball
Charlie Brewer must play. And play well. The Bears' quarterback had some concussion concerns after getting knocked out of the Big 12 Championship Game, but all indications say that he will play. Brewer's knack for scrambling around and "fake-pumping" his way to extra yardage is notorious. You saw the way Joe Burrow went through the Bullodgs' defense, right? (Granted, Brewer is not quite Heisman-quality, sure). Keep an eye on Denzel Mims, who is the only FBS player with at least eight receiving TDs in the last three seasons. If Brewer and Mims can get into a groove it will be a huge boon to the Bears hopes.
Protect the ball. Baylor has made one of the most remarkable improvements in turnover margin in the history of college football. In 2018 the Bears were a minus-nine in turnover margin. This year, the Bears sport a sparkling plus-14 margin, which is an improvement of plus-23 from a year ago. BU finished the regular season third nationally with 17 interceptions, led by Grayland Arnold's six picks. The Bears will need to take care of the ball and win the turnover battle to win this game.
Are you ready for some punting? This could be a real defensive struggle. The Bulldogs are second in scoring defense (12.5 ppg) and the Bears are 16th (19.3 ppg) and both teams have shown the struggles, especially in the red zone where they have a knack of settling for field goals more than they should. And if Fromm continues to struggle and Brewer plays a little rusty, these teams may barely reach double-digits in scoring.
Oh my, the Sugar Bowl has the potential to be pig-ugly with the way these two might struggle offensively and compete defensively. But all things being equal you have to give the Bulldog defense a bit of an edge here. They've got a wee bit of a talent advantage.
Sure, the reality is both teams are bummed out that they did not get a spot in the College Football Playoff. But considering the Bears were 1-11 two years ago and 7-6 last year, they're ecstatic over playing in a New Year's bowl game. Meanwhile the Bulldogs, just like last year, are not as motivated to be there and have little to prove. Even the reports from when the teams arrived in New Orleans said Baylor looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to be there, while Georgia looked brooding and mopey.
That means lightning will strike twice for the Dawgs.
Prediction: Baylor 16, Georgia 12
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.