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Outback Bowl Prediction and Preview: Arkansas vs. Penn State

Outback Bowl Prediction and Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Penn State Nittany Lions

Razorbacks, Nittany Lions face off for the first time down in Tampa to ring in the new year

The Outback Bowl will help you bring in the new year with the first-ever meeting between Arkansas and Penn State. The two programs are certainly arriving at the game after traveling different paths. Arkansas (8-4) is coming off a successful regular season that has energized the Razorback faithful, while Penn State (7-5) is merely hoping to have enough manpower to make for an interesting showdown in Tampa after losing a number of players to early NFL departures.

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A quick glance at the numbers shows this should be a fairly even matchup, but will the Nittany Lions have enough depth to rely on to keep pace with the Razorbacks, or will Arkansas cap this wonderful season under head coach Sam Pittman with a big bowl victory against the Nittany Lions?

Outback Bowl: Arkansas (8-4) vs. Penn State (7-5)

Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, FL)
Spread: Arkansas -1.5

When Arkansas Has the Ball

The Razorbacks will be taking the field without their top playmaker, wide receiver Treylon Burks. Burks is preparing for the NFL, and he leaves some big shoes to fill. But the encouraging news for Arkansas is the Penn State defense may not be quite as steady as they have been this season due to a large number of opt-outs.

Quarterback KJ Jefferson has the mobility to cause some problems for a Penn State defense plugging in so many new faces in big spots while being coached by an interim defensive coordinator (Brent Pry left to become the head coach at Virginia Tech). Jefferson has been the more efficient of the two quarterbacks in the Outback Bowl this season, and his ability to create some plays on the ground should throw Penn State for a few loops.

Penn State hasn't been able to create consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks (22 sacks in 12 games) this season, so the Razorbacks could have a nice advantage working in their favor when they have the football.

When Penn State Has the Ball

The good news for the Nittany Lions is they don't have nearly the same kind of missing pieces the defense will have. The bad news is they will be without Jahan Dotson, the team's leading receiver who is a potential first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Veteran quarterback Sean Clifford can be reliable running the offense, even if he is a bit streaky at times. Parker Washington will be tasked with becoming the main go-to option in the absence of Dotson, and Penn State would be wise to get the tight ends involved.

The Nittany Lions also will look to cook up some magic with the running game. Arkansas hasn't been the sharpest against the run, but Penn State has struggled to move the ball on the ground all season long. The Nittany Lions have zero 100-yard rushing games on the roster this season, but expect Keyvone Lee and Noah Cain to be a big part of the game plan.

Final Analysis

Penn State has far too many questions on defense coming into this Outback Bowl, and that could spell some trouble against Arkansas. With five starters out of action due to opting out, don't expect the Nittany Lions' defense to be as crisp as it has been at times this season. If the Razorbacks can take advantage, then Pittman and company will be calling the hogs after a hard-fought win in Tampa.

Prediction: Arkansas 30, Penn State 27

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— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.