Baylor football caps historic season with Sugar Bowl victory
One could make a very good case that, in only the Bears’ second year under head coach Dave Aranda, we just saw the best Baylor football team ever in 2021.
No Bears team has ever won more games; Baylor finished 12-2 on the season, including a program-record five wins over ranked opponents. They just won their first New Year’s Six bowl since 1957. And when all is said and done, the Bears should finish with their highest final national ranking ever — likely either No. 5 or 6 in the nation.
The capper to it all was Baylor’s 21-7 Sugar Bowl victory over No. 8-ranked Ole Miss on New Year’s Day, a win keyed by a Baylor defense that recorded three interceptions (including a 96-yard pick-six by Al Walcott for the Bears’ first score, the longest INT return in Sugar Bowl history) and racked up a Sugar Bowl-record 10 sacks. On offense, running back Abram Smith carried the day, rushing for 172 yards on 25 carries (and along the way setting a new Baylor single-season rushing record).
“This was a great team win,” Aranda said after the game. “We’ve had some team wins throughout the year, and [I’m] so appreciative of the team. I’m a better person for it. So, I’m proud, man… Humbled, and appreciative.”
The Sugar Bowl win was the exclamation point on one of the most dramatic one-year improvements in college football history. Hampered by COVID-19 during Aranda’s first season, the Bears finished just 2-7 in a limited 2020 schedule; with a program-record 12 wins this year, Baylor tied the NCAA record for largest year-over-year win improvement by a Power-5 team in the modern era.
And the team wasn’t only successful on the field; they were champions in the classroom, too. By season’s end, 37 players had already earned their degrees; in fact, two had already completed master’s degrees, and one — senior cornerback Zeke Brown — was working on his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering. The team ranked second in the Big 12 in graduation success rate, and set a program record for best fall-semester GPA.
As always, next year’s team will lose some starters to graduation and the NFL. The Sugar Bowl was the last time we’ll see such Baylor stalwarts as Smith, consensus All-American Jalen Pitre, and wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (who ranks top-10 in BU history in career receiving yards and touchdowns) in the green and gold.
But the 2022 Bears will return multiple all-Big 12 honorees, including quarterback Gerry Bohanon, linebacker/fullback Dillon Doyle, tight end Ben Sims, and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Siaki Ika, setting the stage for another fun season this fall.
Sic ’em, Baylor football!