Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral was carted to the Ole Miss locker room after sustaining a right leg injury in the first quarter of his team’s Sugar Bowl against Baylor.
Corral was rolled up on while scrambling to his left. He was hardly able to put any weight on his leg as he was helped to the injury tent and was taken to the locker room for X-rays after the first quarter. Corral emerged from the locker room in the second quarter on crutches with his pads and jersey off.
Corral finished seventh in the 2021 Heisman Trophy voting after accounting for 31 total touchdowns and passing for 3,333 yards and rushing for 597 in the regular season. Corral led an Ole Miss team that went 10- 2 in the regular season and won 10 games before a bowl appearance for the first time in school history.
He declared for the 2022 NFL draft before the end of the season when he announced that the Rebels’ game against Vanderbilt would be his final home game in an Ole Miss uniform. He never wavered about playing in the Sugar Bowl, however, and said that he wanted to play one more game with his teammates instead of skipping the game to prepare for the draft.
#OleMiss QB Matt Corral is a projected first-round pick (#8 overall to WFT according to ESPN)
Will he opt out of the Sugar Bowl?
“I wouldn’t be in this position w/o them. I won’t just leave. I know what’s on the other side but I’m gonna give these guys everything I got.”
— Jon Sokoloff (@JonSokoloff) December 13, 2021
Injury comes hours after ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit was critical of players who opt out
Corral deserves praise for his decision to play the Sugar Bowl. He felt that going out with a potential bowl win was the best way to cap his college football career and he didn’t want to let his team down. That’s admirable and should be appreciated.
But the scene of him on a cart heading to the locker room during the game is a major reason why players choose to opt out of bowl games and highlights comments from ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard just hours earlier critical of players who choose not to play.
Both Herbstreit and Howard questioned the love that the current era of college football players have for the game as players like Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III chose to prep for the NFL draft over playing in their teams’ bowl games. All four of those players should be early-round picks in the draft like Corral.
“Isn’t that what we do as football players, we compete? I don’t know if changing it, expanding it is going to change anything, I really don’t,” Herbstreit said on “College GameDay” Saturday morning. “I think this era of player just doesn’t love football.”
Howard then agreed with Herbstreit’s sentiments.
While Herbstreit and Howard have every right to disagree with the decision of NFL prospects to opt out of bowl games — after all, their employer has a vested interest in stars playing in the high-profile bowl games it broadcasts — their questioning of the dedication of players who opt out was simply wrong. Olave, for example, came back for another season in 2021 after he was eligible for the 2020 draft. It’s ludicrous to think he came back to Ohio State for another year while not loving football.
And if you believe players who skip out on bowl games really aren’t dedicated to football, the coaches that leave their teams before bowl games for new jobs also aren’t dedicated to football. The same questioning of players’ dedication needs to be applied to coaches like Lincoln Riley and Brian Kelly after they left for new jobs immediately after their teams’ regular seasons were over.
If coaches can choose to make moves before the postseason for their futures, players should have the ability to do the same. And, unfortunately, Corral’s injury is a reason why many more players will continue to choose to prep for the draft instead of play in a bowl game.