By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor
After an exciting victory over No. 9 Oklahoma State University to capture the Big 12 title on Saturday, No. 7 Baylor football accepted an invitation to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl for the second time in three years. The Bears will face off against No. 8 University of Mississippi at 7:45 p.m. on New Year’s Day at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN. Sugar Bowl CEO Jeff Hundley said the matchup of top-10 teams will be exciting, and he expects a huge crowd.
“Both teams have excelled behind the leadership of second-year coaches who have lifted their programs to great heights,” Hundley said. “We’ve had each of these teams in recent years and know firsthand about the passion of their outstanding fan bases.”
Head coach Dave Aranda was the defensive coordinator for Louisiana State University for three years before coming to Baylor, winning a national championship during his tenure, and is excited to return to New Orleans.
“We’re blessed to be in this position and to play in such a great bowl game in such a great venue in such a great city, a city that has a lot of meaning to me,” Aranda said. “And then to play an opponent like Mississippi with coach [Lane] Kiffin and just his track record and his expertise, and just the eyes that are on him and the program, I know we’ll bring a big viewership to the game. And I think it’s a good contrast in styles, so we’re also looking forward to that challenge.”
Aranda said it’s the growth his team has shown from last season to now in order to get to this point that makes this opportunity so meaningful to him.
“I look back at just the last two years and the learning that has taken place and the growth that has taken place,” Aranda said. “To try to achieve things that are bigger than just a solo pursuit, to achieve things for other people and to be a part of a team, just to see that come together and be a part of that is very strong for me. It’s inspiring.”
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin also shared his excitement for the game, having gone against Aranda-led defenses in the past.
“This is an awesome opportunity to play a great program in Baylor, one that’s extremely well-coached,” Kiffin said. “I’ve gone against coach Aranda’s defenses before, at three different places. This will be four. Really great coach, done an unbelievable job.”
After coming up big last weekend, the Bears’ defense, which allows only 19.2 points per game, will have their hands full once again, as Heisman candidate junior quarterback Matt Corral has led the Rebels to the No. 4 offense in the country, averaging 506.7 yards and 35.9 points per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, it’s still too early to know if junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon will be available or if redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Shapen will get the call. However, with the game being a few weeks away, Aranda said he expects Bohanon to play if he continues to progress the way he has been thus far.
Sugar Bowl tickets from Baylor’s allotment will go on sale to the general public at 9 a.m. on Wednesday at BaylorBears.com. A special student travel package will also be made available soon. All fans can book travel packages to the game via Anthony Travel.