Outback Bowl Preview: Penn State vs. No. 21 Arkansas

Story posted December 30, 2021 in CommRadio, Sports by Logan Bourandas

Bowl season has arrived and Penn State is set to close out its season in Tampa Bay to open up the New Year.

The blue and white will face an unfamiliar opponent in the No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks who ended the season winning four of their last five games.

Both sides have not played a game in over a month and there will be some roster changes heading into the game.

The big story not only for this game but in all bowl games this campaign has been the number of players opting out of their respective games.

Both teams will be without their top offensive weapon as Razorback wide receiver Treylon Burks and Nittany Lion wide receiver Jahan Dotson have announced that they would not play in the Outback Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft.

During the season, both players picked up over 1,100 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns and will be tough to replace in a short timeframe.

Looking at other Nittany Lions that opted out, the blue and white will be without several defensive weapons including safety Jaquon Brisker, linebacker Ellis Brooks and defensive linemen Arnold Ebiketie and Derrick Tangelo.

Despite coaching for over a decade, having to plan around players opting out is a new problem for Penn State coach James Franklin.

“I've been fortunate enough to be a head coach for 12 years,” Franklin said. “Have never had an opt-out in all of my 12 years. They've had a little bit of it, we've had more. It's challenging.”

For Franklin and the Nittany Lions, they saw a rough finish to a once promising 2021 season.

What started as a 5-0 start with two ranked wins over Auburn and Wisconsin quickly evaporated into a 7-5 record on the year with four one-possession losses against ranked opponents.

While many Penn State players chose not to participate in the Outback Bowl, one player who decided to stay was quarterback Sean Clifford who will be returning for his sixth season in Happy Valley.

The Penn State signal caller finished with a career-high 2,912 passing yards to go along with 20 passing touchdowns.

Clifford and the Nittany Lions will face an Arkansas team that took a huge jump during head coach Sam Pittman’s second year in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks finished the season with an 8-4 record following a 3-7 finish in 2020.

Arkansas will play in their first bowl game since the 2016 season with the chance to win their first bowl game since the 2015 season.

The wait hasn’t been as long for the Nittany Lions with their last bowl game coming back in the 2019 season as Penn State defeated Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.

With the chance to play in a bowl game the next season, the Nittany Lions decided to opt out of a potential bowl game following the shortened season.

Now with the Outback Bowl on the horizon, Franklin and the rest of the Nittany Lions are ready to play once it’s time for kickoff at Raymond James Stadium.

“For us, we want to play,” Franklin said. “We want to represent the Outback Bowl the right way, we want to represent Penn State the right way.”

Logan Bourandas is a third-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email lxb5412@psu.edu.