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Outback Bowl Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. No. 21 Arkansas

After more than a month off, Penn State football (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) will return to action when it faces off against No. 21 Arkansas (8-4) at noon on Saturday, January 1, 2022, in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

The Nittany Lions closed out their regular season with a tough 30-27 loss to No. 12 Michigan State. The Razorbacks, on the other hand, finished off the campaign with a 17-point win over Missouri.

As Penn State enters the matchup missing a handful of starters due to NFL-bound opt-outs, our staff is split on choosing an Outback Bowl champion.

Samuel Brungo (7-4): Arkansas 28, Penn State 24

Sam Pittman is a football guy. I love him. Penn State stands no chance. Hogs by four.

Frankie Marzano (7-3): Arkansas 31, Penn State 17

I don’t have much hope for this Penn State team in the Outback Bowl. With many of its star players opting out, there will be a lot of pressure on the younger players to step up and fill those big shoes. It’s definitely possible, but it’s a tall task.

Arkansas hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2016, and I think that will light a fire under the Razorbacks. There have been many times this season when James Franklin’s squad looked like it didn’t want a win as much as the other team, and I predict this to happen again.

Sam Fremin (4-3): Penn State 29, Arkansas 28

Arkansas has had a high-scoring offense all year, but it will be without potential first-round wide receiver Treylon Burks. Despite a defense with five opt-outs, the Nittany Lions’ offense will miss only Jahan Dotson. He was their superstar, but the likes of Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and Malick Meiga are no slouches.

The offensive depth tilts toward Penn State, and I still happen to trust its defense, young and old. The Razorbacks hail from a conference that has been held winless in bowl games thus far. In an inversion of the season’s narrative, expect the Penn State offense to narrowly lift its defense to victory— a victory that just means more. 

Charles Reinert (9-2): Penn State 38, Arkansas 34

Look, I have no idea what to expect with this game, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Penn State has a lot of starters choosing not to participate, and it’ll definitely be an uphill battle against a good Razorbacks team. However, it’s the last game of the season, so I’m riding with Penn State. Let’s just hope the Nittany Lions go out on a high note, folks.

Jordan Mansberger (0-0): Arkansas 27, Penn State 23

For me, this matchup comes down to whether or not Penn State’s defense can stop KJ Jefferson. Jefferson is built like Cam Newton and is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He’s dealt with his fair share of injury troubles this year, but ultimately I still trust Arkansas to outscore a Penn State offense that has looked lost at times this year. Arkansas rushes for 217.3 yards per game and will control the game late in the fourth. Give me the hogs.

Adam Babetski (6-0): Penn State 24, Arkansas 20

I felt more comfortable about this pick before Jahan Dotson opted out, but I’m too much of a homer to predict a loss to end the season. Another consideration is that I’ll probably be eating a Bloomin’ Onion to get into the spirit of the game, so if the grease doesn’t give me an upset stomach, a Penn State loss will.

The Nittany Lions will rise to the occasion against a pretty good Arkansas team and surprise some people with strong performances on both sides of the ball. This could be Parker Washington’s breakout game as well, now that he is Sean Clifford’s top receiving option. Build that momentum for next year, baby!

Gabe Angieri (7-5): Arkansas 27, Penn State 17

The weather will be pretty, but that’s about it. With Jahan Dotson and several defensive stars opting out of the bowl game, I don’t think Penn State has enough to overcome the massive losses against a real solid Razorbacks squad.

Without their top offensive weapon, the Nittany Lions will struggle to put together a consistent performance offensively. Parker Washington will eclipse 100 yards and score a touchdown, but it won’t be nearly enough for Penn State’s offense.

Defensively, expect a lot of inexperienced players to play significant roles due to five defensive starters opting out. I find it hard-pressed to believe that a defense without five starters will be able to contribute to a winning effort, despite the talent some of the younger players may possess.

The Nittany Lions will head into the 2022 season with an 11-11 record over its past two seasons.

Will Pegler (10-2): Penn State 33, Arkansas 24

Bowl games are weird, and this one will be no exception. The Nittany Lions are missing five starters on the defensive side of the ball and are also without stud wide receiver Jahan Dotson. Arkansas is also without wideout Treylon Burks, who paced the Razorbacks throughout this season through the air.

I see Penn State’s defense doing enough against the Razorbacks, including a safety early in the game that will set the tone for this one. Meanwhile, Mike Yurcich’s offense will be sparked by a couple of big plays by Parker Washington and a touchdown by Malick Meiga.

The Nittany Lions’ will grab a fairly big lead early, but KJ Jefferson and the rest of the Arkansas offense will manage to battle back a bit down the stretch. However, Penn State’s lead will be too much to overcome for Sam Pittman’s squad, and James Franklin will grab his eighth win of the season.

Ryan Parsons (10-2): Penn State 38, Arkansas 31

I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen. Both of these teams are pretty different than they were when the season ended. However, I see a high-scoring game ensuing in a typical bowl fashion. However, I think Penn State still has the edge in this game.

I’m excited to see what Penn State’s young players have to prove, and I could certainly see someone like Malick Meiga or Cam Sullivan-Brown scoring. On the defensive side of the ball, I would look for Jamari Buddin or even Amin Vanover to have breakout-type games.

Matt DiSanto (7-5): Arkansas 34, Penn State 23

Penn State’s lights-out defense and Jahan Dotson have been just about the only things working for this team this season. The Nittany Lions are down half their defensive starters and their only game-changing offensive weapon, and I can’t imagine they’ll come home with a win.

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