Regular-season contenders from the Big 12 and SEC will put a bow on the New Year's Day schedule as No. 7 Baylor faces off vs. No. 8 Ole Miss in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. The Bears finished first in the Big 12 for the first time since 2014 -- and won the Big 12 title game for the first time ever -- with a last-second tackle by former walk-on Jairon McVea to cap off a 21-16 win over No. 9 Oklahoma State. The Bears have not won a New Year's Six or BCS bowl since the format started in 1998.
The Rebels won 10 regular-season games for the first time in program history in coach Lane Kiffin's second season in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss beat five of its last six opponents by double-digits, including a 31-21 victory over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral declared for the NFL Draft and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby took a new role at Oklahoma. However, both key figures are expected to participate in the Sugar Bowl. Baylor does not have any notable opt-outs to this point. The Bears won the only previous battle between these two teams in 1975, a 20-10 decision.
Ole Miss vs. Baylor: Need to know
Battle of opposites: Opposites attract as Baylor's No. 22 Expected Points Added defense faces off against Ole Miss' No. 21 EPA offense. The Bears held every opponent to 30 points or fewer behind a Herculean effort from All-American safety Jalen Pitre, while Ole Miss cleared the 30-point plateau eight times. While Ole Miss is known for its quarterback play, the Rebels led the SEC with more than 224 yards of rushing per game. The only two better rush defenses Ole Miss played in 2021 held the Rebels to a combined 3.0 yards per carry. The battle up front could decide the game.
Dynamic skill talent: Ole Miss runs a high-powered offensive system under head coach Lane Kiffin. Quarterback Matt Corral was an early Heisman candidate after throwing for 3,339 yards, 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions while running for 597 yards and 11 scores. Running backs Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish Jr. all cleared 500 yards and combined for 21 touchdowns. Receiver Dontario Drummond caught 67 passes for 924 yards and eight touchdowns. The collection of talent is perhaps the best Baylor has played in 2021.
Battle-tested Bears: Baylor boasts one of the most impressive resumes among New Year's Six teams after beating three top-16 squads, including No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 16 Oklahoma in the final month of the season. The Bears also added a two-score victory over No. 13 BYU in October that aged like fine wine after the Cougars went undefeated against the Pac-12. Conversely, Ole Miss did not beat a team ranked in the top 20. In its only performance against a top-10 squad, the Rebels lost 42-21 to No. 1 Alabama in a game that was never close. Baylor will present a unique matchup.
How to watch Sugar Bowl live
Game: Sugar Bowl
Date: Saturday, Jan. 1 | Time: 8:45 p.m. ET
Location: Caesars Superdome -- New Orleans
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Sugar Bowl Bowl prediction, picks
The game is ultimately a pick 'em after the line swung in Baylor's direction after opening. The battle will be a strength-on-strength, especially in the run game. However, if Baylor can keep track of Ole Miss' skill talents, the Bears are poised to rumble their way to their first ever New Year's Six bowl win. Prediction: Baylor (-1)
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