Sugar Bowl Showdown: Comprehensive Guide for Ole Miss fans
Sugar Bowl game week is finally upon us as Coach Hugh Freeze and his Ole Miss Rebels arrived in New Orleans Saturday afternoon to begin preparations for the upcoming game. (Click here to see Coach Freeze’s arrival interview.) The #12 Rebels (9-3) will take on #16 Oklahoma State (10-2) in the 82nd annual Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on New Year’s Day.
The Rebel Walk presents this comprehensive guide to the game with team comparisons, stats and history–as well as links to attractions you might want to visit while in New Orleans.
New Year’s Six Showdown
Ole Miss is appearing in a New Year’s Six bowl for the 2nd straight season, after playing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last year. The Rebels are one of only five teams to be selected for a New Year’s Six bowl in each of the first two seasons of the College Football Playoff. Alabama, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State are the teams making a second consecutive appearance in a NY6 bowl game.
Obviously, Ole Miss is in some elite company with those programs–a sign of how strong the Rebels have been the past couple of seasons.
Coach Hugh Freeze, his staff, and the players should feel very proud of where the Ole Miss program stands on the national stage. Freeze has elevated the program to elite status and made Ole Miss a national brand outside of the SEC geographical footprint. That statement is supported by three straight Top 15 recruiting classes and by being ranked in the Top 25 for all but one week during the past two years. Further, Ole Miss has been in the College Football Playoff discussion each of the past 2 seasons, appearing in 12 of the 13 CFP rankings in its two-year history. As well, Ole Miss has been a factor in the SEC West race and has recorded 7 wins over Top 25 teams during the past 2 years. The next step for Ole Miss is to win a New Year’s Six bowl, and the Rebels get that chance in New Orleans this coming Friday.
New Orleans has long been a favorite destination for Rebels fans. Ole Miss fans have showed up en masse whenever the Rebels have played a game in NOLA, and the university has a strong alumni base in the Crescent City. The last time Ole Miss played in the Big Easy was a 39-0 victory over Tulane in 2012. Most of the fans at the Superdome for that game were wearing Rebel red and blue. New Orleans has a long history of hosting major sporting events, from the annual Sugar Bowl to numerous Super Bowl games and the NCAA Final Four in basketball.
NOLA offers Ole Miss fans a plethora of entertainment options, from a vibrant night-life on Bourbon Street to some of the world’s best blues and jazz music. The French Quarter and Garden District are always popular among tourists. Jackson Square, the French Market, the National WWII Museum, the Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas are well-thought of by visitors to the Crescent City, as well.
Lastly, no visit to New Orleans is complete without sampling some of its world-famous food. Whether it is beignets at Cafe du Monde, po-boy or Italian Muffuletta sandwiches, gulf oysters or boiled crawfish, gumbo or jambalaya, or red beans and rice, New Orleans has something to offer that will satisfy the taste buds of every visitor.
NOTE: For a complete dining and entertainment directory from the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, click here.
Rebels and Cowboys: Series History
The Sugar Bowl will mark the third meeting between Ole Miss and Oklahoma State. The Rebels have beaten the Cowboys in each of the previous two games, with each of those meetings coming in the Cotton Bowl.
Eli Manning led the Rebels to a 31-28 win over the Cowboys in the 2004 Cotton Bowl, while Dexter McCluster was the star in the 2010 Cotton Bowl, as Ole Miss defeated Oklahoma State by a score of 21-7.
Ole Miss’ Bowl History: A tradition of winning
Ole Miss will be participating in its 37th bowl game in school history, and the Rebels are tied for 18th place in all-time bowl appearances. Ole Miss has a 23-13 bowl record over the years, and the 23 bowl wins place the Rebels in a tie for 10th place among all schools. Ole Miss sports a .639 winning percentage in bowl games, ranking the Rebels 3rd in winning percentage among all schools with at least 25 bowl appearances. Only USC (.660) and the Rebels’ Sugar Bowl opponent, Oklahoma State (.640), possess a better all-time bowl winning percentage than Ole Miss.
Ole Miss is playing in its fourth bowl game in four seasons with Hugh Freeze at the helm of the program. The Rebels have a 2-1 bowl record under Freeze, with wins over Pitt (ACC) and Georgia Tech (ACC) and the lone loss to TCU (Big 12).
Ole Miss owns a 9-4 record in bowl games against teams that are currently members of the Big 12 Conference. The last time Ole Miss faced a Big 12 team was the loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl in 2014, while the last win by the Rebels over a Big 12 opponent was the 44-23 beatdown of Texas in Austin during the 2013 season. The last time Ole Miss won a bowl game versus a Big 12 school was the 21-7 win over Oklahoma State in the 2010 Cotton Bowl.
Sugar Bowl History
Ole Miss is appearing in the Sugar Bowl for the ninth time in school history. With 9 trips to the Sugar Bowl, Ole Miss is tied with Georgia and Florida for 3rd in all-time appearances. Alabama (15) and LSU (13) are the only schools who have played in the Sugar Bowl more often than Ole Miss.
The Rebels own a 5-3 record in Sugar Bowl games, and the five victories ties Ole Miss with the Oklahoma Sooners for third-most in Sugar Bowl history. Alabama (8) and LSU (6) are the only teams to hoist the Sugar Bowl trophy more times than Ole Miss.
On the other side of the field, Oklahoma State is making its second Sugar Bowl appearance. The Cowboys won their previous Sugar Bowl game way back in 1946.
This will be the first time Ole Miss has played a Sugar Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. All eight previous Sugar Bowl appearances by Ole Miss were played at Tulane Stadium. Legendary Coach Johnny Vaught was the head man for all eight of those Sugar Bowl games involving the Rebels. Vaught first led Ole Miss to the Sugar Bowl in 1953, and he was still roaming the sidelines during Ole Miss’ last appearance in 1970 when Archie Manning quarterbacked the Rebels to victory over Arkansas.
Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl
Year Ole Miss Opponent Result
1953 #7 Ole Miss #2 Georgia Tech Lost 24-7
1955 #6 Ole Miss #5 Navy Lost 21-0
1958 #7 Ole Miss #11 Texas Won 39-7
1960 #2 Ole Miss #3 LSU Won 21-0
1961 #2 Ole Miss Rice Won 14-6
1963 #3 Ole Miss #6 Arkansas Won 17-13
1964 #7 Ole Miss #8 Alabama Lost 12-7
1970 #13 Ole Miss #3 Arkansas Won 27-22
2015 #12 Ole Miss #16 Oklahoma State
Ole Miss ended the 2015 season 9-3, 6-2 in the SEC. The Rebels finished second in the SEC West, a game behind Alabama. Yet, the Rebels defeated the SEC champion Crimson Tide 43-37 in Tuscaloosa in September, marking the first time in program history that Ole Miss has defeated Alabama in consecutive seasons. Ironically, Alabama is in the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year.
Oklahoma State finished the season 10-2, 7-2 in the Big 12 Conference. The Cowboys finished in a tie for second place in the Big 12 with TCU, but the Cowboys earned the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Horned Frogs. Oklahoma State was a game behind Big 12 champion Oklahoma in the conference standings. Oklahoma is playing in the College Football Playoff.
Ole Miss enters the Sugar Bowl ranked #12 in the final CFP rankings, while Oklahoma State ended up in the #16 spot. During the regular season, the Rebels were ranked as high as #3, and the Cowboys peaked at #4 in the AP Top 25 poll. Based solely on the standings and rankings, this looks like a matchup of very similar conference runner-up squads.
Oklahoma State will be the sixth ranked opponent for Ole Miss this season, while the Rebels will be the fourth ranked team the Cowboys have faced this year. Ole Miss is 4-1 versus ranked opponents this year, with wins over #2 Alabama, #17 LSU, #23 Mississippi State, and #15 Texas A&M. The Rebels lost to #25 Florida. Oklahoma State is 1-2 against ranked teams, with a win over #5 TCU and losses to #10 Baylor and #5 Oklahoma.
Both teams have played one conference champion this year: Ole Miss defeated SEC champion Alabama, 43-37, on the road in September, while Oklahoma State fell to Big 12 champion Oklahoma, 58-23, at home in the regular season finale with the conference title at stake. Thus, each team has faced a team who is playing in the College Football Playoff.
Oklahoma State will be the ninth bowl eligible team played by Ole Miss on the season, and the Rebels own a record of 5-3, so far, against those teams. Ole Miss is the eighth bowl eligible team the Cowboys will face this year. Oklahoma State went 5-2 against their bowl eligible foes.
Both the Rebels and Cowboys have faced two opponents with double-digit win totals. Ole Miss beat Alabama (12 wins) on the road and lost to Florida (10 wins) on the road. Oklahoma State beat TCU (10 wins) at home and fell to Oklahoma (11 wins) at home.
Both schools have played teams with 9 or more wins this season, as Memphis and Baylor are added to the schools listed above. So, each team has battled against three top-notch foes. Yet, the biggest difference in the schedule strength of the Rebels and Cowboys comes when factoring in opponents with 8 or more wins.
Ole Miss has been challenged by six teams with 8-plus wins, while Oklahoma State has played just three such teams. The Rebels and Cowboys both were tested by three great teams, but only Ole Miss faced three additional opponents who were capable of challenging for a conference title. Another way to view the schedules is to say that the Rebels played six high-quality opponents, while the Cowboys played three high-quality foes and a bunch of mediocre teams.
On paper, Ole Miss clearly faced a more challenging schedule than Oklahoma State. Hopefully, the tougher competition has better prepared the Rebels for this Sugar Bowl showdown.
On paper, the Sugar Bowl pairing of Ole Miss and Oklahoma State is appealing to those who like high-scoring games. The Rebels and Cowboys feature explosive offenses who can get up and down the field and put points on the board in a hurry. Both teams play fast, excel in the passing game, and feature dynamic quarterbacks. While both teams are offensive-minded, there are some key differences in the statistics which indicate an advantage for Ole Miss.
Oklahoma State and Ole Miss rank 9th and 10th, respectively, in FBS offensive efficiency. The Rebels rank 19th in defensive efficiency, but the Cowboys rank just 61st nationally. The numbers indicate a big advantage for Ole Miss on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive advantage is why the Rebels rank 6th nationally in total team efficiency and the Cowboys sit in the 23rd position in that category.
Considering that Ole Miss has played a tougher schedule, those numbers point to the Rebels being the better overall team.
Ole Miss is 14th in the country in total offense, with an average of 515 yards per game. The Rebels are 11th in passing (333 ypg), 56th in rushing (181 ypg), and 14th in points (40.3 ppg). Ole Miss has run 880 plays this year, averaging 7.019 yards per play.
Oklahoma State is 20th nationally in total offense, with an average of 490 yards per game. The Cowboys are 7th in passing (357 ypg), 112th in rushing (132 ypg), and 9th in points (41.2 ppg). The Cowboys ran 902 plays this season, for an average of 6.512 yards per play.
The numbers are very similar, but clearly Ole Miss has the stronger running game by a significant margin.
Ole Miss ranks 53rd in the country in total defense, allowing 388 yards per game. The Rebels are 1ooth against the pass (255 ypg), 24th against the run (132 ypg), and 36th in points (22.8 ppg).
Oklahoma State sits 90th nationally in total defense, giving up 430 yards per game. The Cowboys are 89th against the pass (244 ypg), 83rd against the run (185 ypg), and 86th in points (29.0 ppg).
While the Ole Miss defense ranks in the middle of the pack nationally, the Cowboys are in the bottom-third of FBS defenses.
Neither team defends the pass well, but the Rebels are much stronger against the run and allow 7 points per game less than Oklahoma State.
Red Zone Offense
Oklahoma State ranks 9th in the nation in red zone offense, converting 51 of 55 opportunities (.927) into points. The Cowboys have scored 38 touchdowns and 13 field goals in the red zone for 305 points, while they have came up empty just 4 times.
Ole Miss ranks 64th in the country in red zone offense, converting 47 of 56 chances (.839) into points. The Rebels scored 33 touchdowns and 14 field goals in the red zone for 273 points, but they came away with no points on 9 occasions.
The Cowboys are very efficient in the red zone, while Ole Miss has struggled to finish drives at times this season. This is an area where Oklahoma State has an advantage over the Rebels.
Red Zone Defense
Oklahoma State is 75th in the country in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 38 of 45 trips into the red zone (.844). The Cowboys have given up 23 touchdowns, 15 field goals, and have made 7 stops in the red zone.
Ole Miss sits 78th in the nation in red zone defense, allowing foes to score on 33 of 39 trips into the red zone (.846). The Rebels have surrendered 26 touchdowns and 7 field goals but have made 6 stops in the red zone.
The Rebels and Cowboys are nearly identical in this category, so neither team has an advantage here.
Ole Miss and Oklahoma State are very similar on offense in converting on third-down attempts. The Cowboys convert on third-down 44 percent of the time, while the Rebels are successful 41 percent of the time.
Both teams rank in the lower-half of FBS defenses on third-down. Ole Miss is 69th in the nation, allowing opponents to convert on third-down 39 percent of the time. Oklahoma State ranks 90th nationally, surrendering a third-down conversion to foes 42 percent of the time.
Once again, the numbers do not suggest an advantage for either team in third-down efficiency on either side of the ball.
One of the most vital statistics in any college football game, as any coach will tell you, is which team wins the turnover battle. Oklahoma State (+13) has been much better in this category than Ole Miss (+0) all year. The Cowboys have created 27 takeaways while giving up just 14 turnovers this season. The Rebels have forced 22 turnovers on defense but have turned the ball over 22 times.
Several Ole Miss players have received conference and national recognition for outstanding play this season. Below is a list of some of the honors bestowed upon Rebel standouts.
Laquon Treadwell 2nd Team All American (Walter Camp);
3rd Team All-American (AP);
1st Team All-SEC (Coaches, AP);
Biletnikoff Award Finalist
Robert Nkemdiche 1st Team All-American (Scout); 2nd Team All-American (AP, Walter Camp);
2nd Team All-SEC (Coaches, AP);
Hornung Award Finalist
Trae Elston 2nd Team All-American (AP);
1st Team All-SEC (Coaches);
2nd Team All-SEC (AP)
Laremy Tunsil 2nd Team All-American (Walter Camp)
Chad Kelly 2nd Team All-SEC (Coaches, AP);
Manning Award Finalist
Mike Hilton 2nd Team All-SEC (Coaches, AP)
Evan Engram 2nd Team All-SEC (Coaches);
SEC Football Community Service Team
Fahn Cooper Kent Hull Trophy
Marquis Haynes 2nd Team All-SEC (Coaches, AP)
Jeff is a college sports fanatic who was able to recognize many D1 team logos by kindergarten. Growing up, Jeff played football, baseball, basketball, and ran track/cross country. Jeff’s love for college sports was expanded while running track/cross country at Indiana University, where he earned a General Education degree and attended every sporting event possible when not running for the Hoosiers. A proud parent and husband, Jeff resides in Oxford. His wife is an Ole Miss graduate, and Jeff has a year of post-graduate studies at Ole Miss under his belt. Jeff and his family can be found at just about any Ole Miss sporting event throughout the year. Jeff follows the idea of God, Family/Friends, and Football as a way of life. Writing about Ole Miss sports plays to Jeff’s love affair with collegiate athletics perfectly!