Penn State vs. Arkansas Outback Bowl Picks and Predictions

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Parker Washington #3 and Jahan Dotson #5 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrate. Nic Antaya/Getty Images/AFP.

The first bowl game on New Year’s Day is from Tampa as Penn State of the Big Ten takes on No. 21 Arkansas of the SEC. Which way to lean at BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks

 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

Saturday, January 1, 2022 – 12:00 PM EST at Raymond James Stadium

New Year’s Day is the Holy Grail of sorts for college football fans and bettors, and Penn State-Arkansas is the first of five very good matchups to kick off 2022, although the only one not featuring a pair of ranked teams. Penn State was ranked most of the year but faded down the stretch. The Hogs are No. 21 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. ESPN2 has this telecast of the Outback Bowl. 

It’s the 5th time in this bowl – which annually matches a Big Ten school and one from the SEC – for Penn State, which is 3-1 at BMR’s top-rated books in the previous four. The Lions last played in it on Year’s Day 2011 and lost 37-24 to Florida. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s the first time in this game for Arkansas. 

Penn State and Arkansas have never played, although Lions' coach James Franklin is 0-1 vs. the Hogs. He lost to them while coaching Vanderbilt. 

PSU Star Planning on Playing for Now 

Penn State (7-5) closed the season losing five of seven games, including its finale 30-27 at Michigan State on Nov. 27 in the snow. Quarterback Sean Clifford, who was banged up the second half of the season, completed 23 of 34 passes for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns. He will play in this game.   

Jahan Dotson had 8 catches for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns. It marked the 5th time in his career that Dotson tallied 100+ yards and 2 touchdowns. Penn State also returned its 3rd interception for a touchdown as well, the most by a Nittany Lions team since 2003.  

Dotson was one of the Big Ten’s top wideouts and was named third-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten, and the team MVP. He was the only Power Five receiver and one of two FBS receivers with at least 90 receptions, 1,180 yards, and 12 touchdowns in their first 12 games of the season. Dotson’s 91 catches are six shy of a school record. He is also second all-time at Penn State in career receptions (183), tied for second in career receiving touchdowns (25), and is fourth in yardage (2,757). As of now, Dotson has not opted out of this game to prepare for the NFL Draft but don’t rule that out. 

Defensively, safety Jaquan Brisker was named a first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American. He has 64 tackles and 6 tackles for loss. He hasn’t opted out yet, either, but linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith have. Brooks was Penn State’s leading tackler with 100, and he recorded at least 10 tackles on four different occasions this season in being named second-team All-Big Ten. Smith was the team’s second-leading tackler with 81. 

PSU closed the regular season first in the Big Ten in red zone defense (66.7; 4th nationally), second in scoring defense (16.8; 7th), and third in passing efficiency (111.98; 8th). Penn State also lost defensive coordinator Brent Pry as he took over as head coach at Virginia Tech. Former Miami coach Manny Diaz will take over as DC after the bowl. 

The Nittany Lions are 24-23 all-time against current SEC schools, having played 11 of the 14 teams in the league. They beat Auburn in Happy Valley earlier this season, 28-20. Penn State is 11-4-1 against the spread on NCAAF picks in its past 16 non-conference games.  

Hogs Lose Star WR to Draft 

Sam Pittman did a terrific job in leading Arkansas to an 8-4 record this season and the school’s first bowl game since the Belk Bowl following the 2016 season. The Hogs’ four non-conference wins were their most since 2016 and Arkansas’ third-place finish in the SEC West was the best for the Razorbacks since 2015. The Hogs scored wins over four teams headed to bowl games. They beat three schools ranked at the time in Texas, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State.  

Unfortunately for the Hogs, maybe their best offensive player is skipping the bowl. That’s first-team All-SEC receiver, Treylon Burks.

He had 66 catches for 1,104 yards (16.7 ypc) and 11 touchdowns, while also rushing 15 times for 112 yards and a touchdown. He ranked 2nd in the SEC in receiving touchdowns, 3rd in receiving yards per game (92.0), 4th in receiving yards, and 6th in receptions per game (5.5). His six 100-yard games were a school record and his 11 receiving TDs were second in Arkansas history. 

The Hogs also were excellent on the ground in rushing for 2,608 yards, the program’s most since 2015. They had four players with at least 498 yards, including QB KJ Jefferson (554 yards, five TDs).  

After being arrested for DWI, defensive lineman Tre Williams decided to declare for the NFL Draft. The fifth-year senior transfer from Missouri had six sacks this year along with 28 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss. 

Arkansas 15-24-3 all-time in bowls and 0-4 against the Big Ten in bowl games dating back to the 1999 Citrus Bowl. The Hogs haven’t faced a Big Ten team since losing to Ohio State in the Jan. 4, 2011, Sugar Bowl.

The Razorbacks and Nittany Lions had Auburn as a common opponent this year. As noted above, the Lions beat the visiting Tigers 28-20, while Arkansas also hosted Auburn but lost 38-23.  

I’m picking this game on the assumption Dotson plays for Penn State. If he doesn’t, back Arkansas. The Razorbacks are 5-11-2 ATS at the NCAAF odds in their past 18 non-conference games.  

NCAAF Pick: Penn State at PK (-110) at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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