Sugar Bowl: Key Matchups & Prediction

Oklahoma State will be facing Ole Miss in a bowl game for the third time since 2004 when the two teams meet on Jan. 1 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Robert Allen points out there are several key matchups that will help determine who wins when the two square off inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

The Sugar Bowl debuts its first of the new tradition of matchups between the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference in years in which the vintage bowl game doesn't host a College Football Playoff semifinal.

The contest between the Cowboys and familiar bowl opponent Ole Miss will more closely resemble a Big 12 regular season game as the Rebels look very much like a Big 12 offense to Pokes defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. Spencer would likely have favored playing Florida or LSU, a more traditional ground oriented and less wide open SEC offense.

The bonus is that while Ole Miss is good and athletic on defense the Rebels are not to be confused with Alabama or Florida on the defensive side. I'm not sure how much it matters but because of a wild weekend in Atlanta, Rebels defensive tackle and projected first-round NFL Draft pick Robert Nkimdiche is not playing as he has been suspended for the contest.

Hunger should not be a problem meaning both teams will be highly motivated coming into this as the Cowboys lost their last two to Baylor and OU and would like to finish the season on a high note and have that positive aura as they work toward next season, one where the schedule turns around but the talent, both young and returning, should set up well for a run toward a Big 12 championship. Ole Miss lost to TCU in the Peach Bowl last season in ugly fashion 42-3. Ole Miss is looking for a 10-win season and also keeping the positive vibe going into the offseason.

There are some great matchups in this game with at least two being possible matchups again in the NFL.

OSU-Ole Miss Key Matchups

Oklahoma State DE #38 Emmanuel Ogbah
vs. Ole Miss LT #78 Laremy Tunsil
Nkimdiche is out, which takes the battle of two projected first-round NFL Draft picks on the defensive line. But it still leaves an even better scenario and matchup as Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil is huge and projected as a top-five pick in the upcoming NFL Draft by some draft prognosticators. Like Ogbah, Tunsil is junior who is expected to declare early for the draft. He is  6-5, 305 pounds and has excellent athletic ability and good quick feet along with the long arms that NFL offensive line coaches want in protecting the quarterback. Ogbah is also very athletic and strong and his 6-4, 275 pounds is used like a hammer on the edge. He has good moves and excellent hands in knocking tackles off of him in pass rush. You'd pay full price to watch this matchup and the demand on passes by scouts indicates that many of them will be there to see it. The edge here is too close to call but on consistency and effort I will give an edge to Ogbah as he never takes as much of a play off.

Edge: Very slight to Ogbah

Oklahoma State OC #71 Brad Lundblade
vs. Ole Miss NT #56 Woodrow Hamilton
This is a critical matchup with Robert Nikimdiche out and a very able redshirt freshman in Breeland Speaks taking over but it is the hefty nose tackle in Woodrow Hamilton (6-3, 319) that is like a can opener prying the center and guard into the backfield and eliminating them from any chance to help outside on the side that Hamilton lines up. Hamilton demands a double team and with Lundblade at 6-3, 300 – and he actually might be closer to 290 – then a double team is a must. Hamilton doesn't make plays, he makes it so it is easier for others to make plays. Controlling him and sometimes doing it with one and a half instead of a true double team will go a long way toward success with the offense.

Edge: Solid to Hamilton

Oklahoma State CB #1 Kevin Peterson
vs. Ole Miss WR #1 Laquon Treadwell
The old rock and roll song has the lyric, "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever hear," but not in the Sugar Bowl. That's because one and one equals two and that is likely what you will see on the outside when Ole Miss is on offense and the Cowboys are on defense. I expect that Laquon Treadwell will see Kevin Peterson lined up across the line of scrimmage. Both players are heading to the NFL and while Treadwell has become the target of choice of quarterback Chad Kelly with 76 catches for 1,082 yards and 8 touchdowns. Peterson earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for the first time this season because the coaches recognized that he covers the other team's best receiver and he often times does it  with little over the top help. He does not have many interceptions but not many touchdown passes come along either and the Cowboys don't get chewed up by the Josh Doctsons, Sterling Shepards, Corey Coleman, and Allen Lazards in this conference.

Edge: Peterson

Oklahoma State FS #13 Jordan Sterns
vs. Ole Miss QB #10 Chad Kelly
Kelly is really scary as he can scramble around and then either find a whole half of the field that is void of defenders because they are in man coverage or he comes forward and a defender comes off a receiver to support the run and Kelly throws it over their head. Kelly is also hard to tackle. Sterns needs to be the conscience of the Cowboys on defense and remind everybody to do the right thing. He needs to be a vocal leader and a physical player. The context of this matchup is simple but the execution of it is complex.

Edge: Too close to call

OSU-Ole Miss (Sugar Bowl) Prediction
Oklahoma State earned the trip to the Sugar Bowl. Sure, the Cowboys got some help on the last Saturday of the season as Texas upset Baylor but the Pokes won 10 games and some of them are starting to look even better than they did when they happened now that the regular season is over. The wins on the road at Texas, at West Virginia, at Texas Tech, and at Iowa State are looking better. I've always felt that opening win on the road at Central Michigan was solid. The MAC has been pretty good in bowl play.

Ole Miss has good wins too, and honestly I look at these two teams and see some similarities. The Cowboys and the Rebels are both challenged some in the run game with Oklahoma State more challenged. But I like Oklahoma State and a return of a healthy Mason Rudolph and the compliment of receivers just a tad bit better. On defense, Ole Miss has allowed teams to throw the ball and throw it deep. Both offenses will get theirs and both defenses will make some plays but not as many as the offenses do.

How is this for a cop out. I think the last team with the ball is going to win. It's impossible to predict which team that will be, but I'm going to guess it's Oklahoma State.

#16 Oklahoma State 41, #12 Ole Miss 38

Big 12 Predictions
Last Week of the Regular Season: (Straight Up) 1-1 (Against the spread-Not all games have point spreads) 2-0
Regular Season: (Straight Up) 61-13 (Against the spread-Not all games have point spreads) 39-30-1

Tuesday, Dec. 29
Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
#10 North Carolina 35, #17 Baylor 20

Advocare V100 Texas Bowl in Houston, Texas
#20 LSU 49, Texas Tech 35

Thursday, Dec. 31
CFP National Semifinal Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla.
#4 Oklahoma 34, #1 Clemson 31

Saturday, Jan. 2
AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn.
Kansas State 28, Arkansas 26

Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas
#11 TCU 37, #15 Oregon 35

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona
West Virginia 42, Arizona State 20

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