1 New year’s fireworks
If you’re the guy in charge of running the Superdome scoreboard, roll up your sleeves and get ready for a busy night. The record for combined points in the Sugar Bowl is 81 points, set by LSU (47) and Illinois (34) in 2002. Ole Miss is averaging 40.2 points per game, while Oklahoma State averages 41.2. So don’t be surprised if the record book has to be rewritten after this one.
2 Chad Kelly Swag
The 10-mph speed limit sign on the Ole Miss campus is there as a tribute to Eli Manning. But folks driving around campus will think about another No. 10, current Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly, if he can deliver a Sugar Bowl win. Kelly has played lights out. An MVP night like Eli’s dad, Archie, had the last time Ole Miss played in the Sugar Bowl in 1970, and he’ll be in Rebel lore forever.
3 TWO-headed monster
Who’s the man? We’ll have to wait until kickoff to see. Both of the Cowboys’ quarterbacks — Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh — have been effective. Rudolph ranks 13th in the nation with 3,591 passing yards. Walsh, more of a running threat, has accounted for 24 TDs. The Rebels have had extra time to prepare, but will it be enough?
4 SEC vs. Big 12
All week long, players from both teams talked about conference pride. The Rebels want to remove the sour taste of last season’s 42-3 Peach Bowl loss to Big 12 member TCU. Gundy is 9-2 in his past 11 games vs. the SEC. Ole Miss handed him one of those losses in the 2010 Cotton Bowl. The Rebels are 2-0 all-time vs. OSU. If they make it 3-0, they’ll snap the SEC’s four-game Sugar Bowl skid.
It seems odd for Ole Miss to be the program being asked to rescue the SEC’s reputation. But the truth is, the SEC has lost the past four Sugar Bowls its teams have played in. The Rebels don’t have history behind them, but they do have the offensive firepower to put the SEC back in the win column and just enough defense without Robert Nkemdiche to hold the Cowboys at bay.
Ole Miss 43, Oklahoma State 32
The Sugar Bowl doesn’t have teams ranked as highly as it generally has, but this one will make up in entertainment value what it lacks in impact on the polls. Both offenses will put on a show, but Chad Kelly and Laquon Treadwell will team up for a late touchdown to settle it as Rebel Nation parties like it’s 1970.
Ole Miss 36, Oklahoma State 30
The folks in Vegas put the over/under at 68 points. Take the over. These high-powered offenses have scored more than that by themselves twice this season. (The Rebels scored 76 and 73 points in games. The Cowboys scored 69 and 70 in a pair of games.) Oh-so-slight edge to Ole Miss. Rebels fans celebrate by turning Bourbon Street into the Grove.
Ole Miss 45, Oklahoma State 42
No Nkemdiche, no problem?
The most dynamic defensive player on either of these teams won’t dress out: Ole Miss DL Robert Nkemdiche is suspended. Both teams, of course, have downplayed his absence. OSU OL Zachary Crabtree said he’s disappointed he won’t match up against Nkemdiche, but “those guys have a lot of talent across the board.”
Redshirt freshman Breeland Speaks will start in Nkemdiche’s place, but others will help pick up the slack, including LB/DL C.J. Johnson. “I’ll definitely take a lot more snaps there than I have in the past,” Johnson said. “Their big guy is out,” Cowboys RB Raymond Taylor said, “but all that means is somebody else is going to step up. They’re going to be excited to take a role that maybe they didn’t have all season. To me, that’s equally as dangerous — someone waiting for their time.”