2023 Peach Bowl Preview: Ole Miss vs. Penn State

Ole Miss' speed, health could be issue for Penn State (1:25)

On Read & React, Cole Cubelic and Roman Harper discuss the factors that could lead to the No. 11 Rebels taking down the No. 10 Nittany Lions in the Peach Bowl. (1:25)

The Big Ten and SEC will only get stronger next season when all the realignment in college football takes shape, so consider the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl a New Year's Six bowl preliminary for the 2024 season between two teams clawing to break through into championship contention in their respective conferences.

For James Franklin and Penn State, it's a chance to win 11 games for the second straight season. It would be the fifth time in the last eight seasons the Nittany Lions won 11 games. Granted, the Penn State fans aren't thrilled about the 2-8 record against Michigan and Ohio State over the past five seasons, but winning 11 games (as a Big Ten member) is never something to take for granted.

For Ole Miss, a win would give the Rebels their first 11-win season in school history. Lane Kiffin has guided Ole Miss to 10-win regular seasons in two of the past three years. Taking down a top-10 Penn State team in a New Year's Six bowl game would only cement the job Kiffin has done in making Ole Miss nationally relevant.

No. 11 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 Penn State

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

When: Saturday, Dec. 30, noon ET

Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

How to watch: ESPN and ESPN App

Opening line: Penn State -3.5

Ole Miss (10-2)

Key player: QB Jaxson Dart

When Ole Miss went out in the offseason and brought in transfer quarterbacks Spencer Sanders from Oklahoma State and Walker Howard from LSU, there were questions about how sturdy Dart's hold was on the starting quarterback job. He answered those questions pretty quickly by following up his first season at Ole Miss after transferring over from USC with a 2023 season that easily ranked him among the upper tier of quarterbacks in the SEC. Dart was 11th nationally with a 161.8 passer rating and joined LSU's Jayden Daniels as the only two quarterbacks in the SEC with more than 2,900 passing yards and more than 300 rushing yards.

X factor: RB Quinshon Judkins

After leading the SEC in rushing as a freshman, Judkins' production dipped some this season. But after a slow start, he came on in the second half of the season and eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season. He rushed for more than 100 yards in five of his last eight games to finish with 1,052 yards and 15 touchdowns. He gives the Rebels the kind of go-to running back that can wear down a defense and make it think twice about paying too much attention to Ole Miss passing game.

How Ole Miss wins: Balance, balance and balance on offense

Penn State is talented, fast and physical on defense. The Nittany Lions held nine of their 12 opponents to 15 or fewer points. The Rebels need to be able to mix it up on offense, and with Judkins playing his best football, that should make it more difficult for the Nittany Lions to load up on the pass. Dart's ability to run and scramble should also pay dividends in this game. Penn State is third nationally in rushing defense and giving up just 2.16 yards per carry. The Rebels can't be predictable on offense, which they really never are under Kiffin, and will need to hit some big plays and win the turnover battle. -- Chris Low

Penn State (10-2)

Key player: RB Nicholas Singleton

Singleton, a sophomore who was 57th overall in the 2022 ESPN 300, recorded his first 100-yard game of the season (118 yards) in a 42-0 victory over Michigan State on Nov. 24. Singleton (702 rushing yards and eight touchdowns) and fellow sophomore Kaytron Allen (851 rushing yards and six touchdowns) have provided a dynamic one-two punch for an offense that has averaged 186.7 rushing yards a game (24th in the country). And Singleton and the Nittany Lions' offensive line -- led by potential first-round pick Olumuyiwa Fashanu -- should be primed to go up against a Ole Miss defense that has surrendered 151.9 rushing yards per game (67th nationally) and was gashed by Georgia to the tune of 300 yards during a 52-17 rout in Athens on Nov. 11.

X factor: QB Drew Allar

Allar came into the program with a lot of fanfare (No. 51 overall in the 2022 ESPN 300) and had big shoes to fill as Sean Clifford finally moved on. Allar (2,336 passing yards and 23 TDs) has taken good care of the football, throwing just one interception. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich was fired a day after losing to Michigan because the passing game (204.3 YPG; 91st in the FBS) hadn't produced enough all season. Allar hasn't thrown for over 300 yards since the season opener against West Virginia. The Nittany Lions need to collectively find more explosive plays through the air. There could be chances for Allar, wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith and tight ends Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren as Mississippi's defense gives up 220 passing yards per game (60th nationally).

How Penn State wins: Limit Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins

Manny Diaz's defense leads the country in total defense (223.3 YPG) and is third in rush defense (69.7 YPG). Those stout numbers have allowed Penn State to control the line of scrimmage for the majority of the season. Blake Corum's 145-yard day on Nov. 11 in Michigan's 24-15 victory was really the only outlier where the Nittany Lions' defense really struggled at the point of attack. Judkins (1,052 yards and 15 touchdowns) followed up his tremendous freshman campaign with another strong year, pacing the SEC in rushing scores for a second straight season. Not allowing Judkins to consistently find his way into the second level of the defense and putting more responsibility on Jaxson Dart's shoulders could be paramount. -- Blake Baumgartner