No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor: Sugar Bowl preview and picks against the spread

No. 5 Georgia (11-2) vs. No. 7 Baylor (11-2)

Location: New Orleans | When: Jan. 1 (8:45 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Georgia -5.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

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Georgia: The Bulldogs are back at the Sugar Bowl for the second year in a row after losing the SEC championship game for the second year in a row. And it wasn’t as close in 2019 as it was in 2018. 

Georgia got flattened 37-10 by LSU on Dec. 7 and fell from No. 4 to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff standings. Had the Bulldogs beaten South Carolina on Oct. 12, that loss could have probably kept Georgia in the top four. Instead, Georgia is in New Orleans again … and not playing for the national title like the Tigers are on Jan. 13.

Georgia wide receiver George Pickens is the team's leading receiver. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Georgia wide receiver George Pickens is the team's leading receiver. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Baylor: The Bears were one of the biggest surprises in college football in 2019. Baylor started the season 9-0 with wins over Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State on the ledger ahead of a huge matchup with Oklahoma on Nov. 16.

Thanks to a soft non-conference schedule, Baylor wasn’t up at the top of the rankings heading into that game. But Baylor showed that it belonged in the top 10 despite blowing a 28-3 lead in the first half as Oklahoma came back to win 34-31.

The two teams met again on Dec. 7 in the Big 12 title game. Baylor took Oklahoma to overtime despite having to play three quarterbacks but fell 30-23. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

To see if Georgia will avenge last year’s Sugar Bowl loss to Texas. As you’ll see below, the Bulldogs could be without a lot of players. This game could be a very good test of the depth Georgia has acquired with fantastic recruiting classes over the last few years. There also may be a non-zero chance that this is Matt Rhule’s last game coaching Baylor. The Bears coach has been mentioned as a possible candidate for multiple NFL jobs and reportedly could interview with teams after the game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Georgia WR George Pickens: There are a ton of Bulldogs who aren’t playing or may not play on Wednesday. S J.R. Reed is out because of a minor injury. WR Dominick Blaylock is out. RB Brian Herrien didn’t travel with the team. OL Isaiah Wilson and Andrew Thomas are prepping for the NFL draft. RB D’Andre Swift has a shoulder injury and may not play if he’s not 100 percent. WR Lawrence Cager is still rehabbing from an ankle injury.

Yeah, that’s a lot of names. So we’re going with Pickens, who ended up as Georgia’s leading receiver in 2019. The freshman has 37 catches for 552 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite missing the first half of the SEC title game for fighting at Georgia Tech, Pickens had four catches for 54 yards and a score. It was also the third-straight game where he had scored a touchdown.

Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer has been cleared to play in the Sugar Bowl. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer has been cleared to play in the Sugar Bowl. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

Baylor QB Charlie Brewer: Brewer has been Baylor’s starter for the entire season but his status for the Sugar Bowl was in doubt for a while after he suffered a concussion in the Big 12 title game. But Baylor coach Matt Rhule said that Brewer had been practicing with the team and was cleared to play. 

Brewer is 227-of-348 passing for 2,950 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s also a threat to run when needed; he leads the Bears with 10 rushing touchdowns. When he’s on, Baylor’s offense hums along. When he isn’t — like during regulation of an overtime win over TCU — it can be a little ugly.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Baylor DE James Lynch: We’re big fans of the lumberjack-built Lynch, who could opt to declare and might even push for first-round status. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year made several game-changing plays, including two forced fumbles at or near the goal line. Lynch is squarely built at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds but is a better athlete than he’s sometimes said to be. He could be a 10-year starter as a 5- or 6-technique defensive end, or even kick down inside as a defensive tackle in an even front. With Lynch’s power and quickness, we think he could pose problems for an offensive line as talented as Georgia’s is.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Georgia: Only one of the first three seasons of the Kirby Smart era have ended in wins. That victory was the 2016 Liberty Bowl. A win gives Georgia a 12-win season for the second time in three seasons and the third time in eight seasons and pushes Smart’s record to 44-12 in four seasons.

Baylor: The Bears have a chance to win more games (12) than they lost in 2017 (11). That’s an insane accomplishment given the circumstances. Baylor’s also going for a fourth-straight bowl win. The Bears’ last bowl loss came in the Cotton Bowl after the 2014 season.

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Baylor +5.5

Sam Cooper: Georgia -5.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Georgia -6.5

Pete Thamel: Baylor +6.5

Dan Wetzel: Georgia -6.5

Sean Sullivan: Georgia -6.5

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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