The second of three SEC-Big 12 bowl matchups will go down Friday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) when No. 12 Ole Miss faces No. 16 Oklahoma State. Here are three reasons to watch the Rebels (9-3) take on the Cowboys (10-2):
1. Bowl traditions: Perhaps it’s a bigger deal that it has been 46 years since Ole Miss last played in the Sugar Bowl, as the New Orleans-based bowl has long been affiliated with the SEC. With nine appearances in the game, Ole Miss is tied for third-most of any program and Rebels fans are ecstatic over returning to the game.
However, it has been even longer since Oklahoma State played in the Sugar. This is its first since 1945, ending a 70-year drought that was the longest of any program that has appeared in the Sugar Bowl at least twice. Ole Miss’ 46-year drought was the third-longest stretch between appearances, behind Texas A&M’s 59 (from 1939 to 1998).
Even if these teams haven’t played in the Sugar in a long while, they have appeared in plenty of bowls -- and they have fared as well as nearly anyone. Among teams that have appeared in at least 25 bowl games, these are two of the nation’s most successful postseason programs. Entering bowl season, USC’s .673 winning percentage was the best, followed by Penn State (.644), Oklahoma State (.640) and Ole Miss (.639).
This will be the third bowl meeting between these programs in the past 12 years. Ole Miss won the first two, both of which were at the Cotton Bowl (2003, 2009).
2. Landsharks vs. two-QB Cowboys: Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack likened planning for Oklahoma State quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and J.W. Walsh to preparing to face Georgia Tech’s option offense because “you’re totally shifting gears and running a totally different scheme against them.” In this case, Ole Miss has completely different plans based on which quarterback is in the game, whether it’s run-pass threat Walsh or pure passer Rudolph.
The two quarterbacks have played in every game thus far, although Rudolph typically starts while Walsh has been a scoring machine in the red zone. Rudolph (3,591 passing yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs) is No. 15 in the FBS in passing yards per game (299.3). Walsh (663 passing yards, 13 TDs, 1 INT) can do major damage on the ground, having rushed for 285 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Ole Miss’ “Landshark” defense has contended with injuries throughout the season and on Friday will be without five players Wommack had expected to start at the beginning of the season. The most notable absences are suspended defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and safety Tony Conner. The Cowboys are in the FBS top 20 in both total offense and scoring offense, so the short-handed Rebels will likely have their hands full on Friday.
3. Do you like offense? Assuming Rudolph has completely recovered from foot surgery, two of the nation’s top passing attacks -- featuring 1,000-yard receivers from both sides (Oklahoma State’s James Washington and Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell) -- should be ready to roll up big yardage on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf.
These are legitimately two of the top offenses in the FBS. Both rank in the top 20 in points per game (Oklahoma State with 41.2 and Ole Miss with 40.3), total offense (Oklahoma State 489.5 and Ole Miss 514.8) and 20-yard plays per game (Oklahoma State with 6.7 and Ole Miss with 6.8).
We’ve already discussed Oklahoma State’s noteworthy quarterbacks. Let’s take a moment to mention Rebels quarterback Chad Kelly, who was phenomenal in the month of November. His 96.4 Total Quarterback Rating was the best in the nation and he tossed seven touchdowns without a single interception in those three games (Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State).
Kelly has already set an Ole Miss record for total offense (4,167 yards) and touchdowns responsible for (37). He is fifth in SEC history for total offense in a season and can jump past Cam Newton (4,327 yards in 2010) and Tim Tebow (4,181 in 2007) with 161 yards against Oklahoma State. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel has the two best seasons in SEC history, with 5,116 yards in 2012 and 4,873 in 2013.
Oklahoma State is mediocre at best on defense -- the Cowboys are 85th nationally in scoring defense and 94th in total defense -- but its pass rush could be a concern for Kelly. The Cowboys led the Big 12 and entered bowl season tied for fifth in the FBS with 38 sacks, led by Emmanuel Ogbah’s 13 sacks. The Rebels surrendered 17 sacks in the regular season.