By Michael Lipinski, Sports Talk Philly Contributor
The Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) return to the after losing 5-of-7 games to finish off the 2021 regular season campaign. At one point a Top 5 team, the Nittany Lions limped too the the finish line and an appearance in the Outback Bowl.
No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks (8-4, 4-4 SEC) were one of the bigger surprises this college football season. The Razorbacks complied right wins including two over Top 15 programs. Head coach Sam Pittman was moments away from having Arkansas in the ten win club. Arkansas suffered a heartbreaking 52-51 loss to No. 17 Ole Miss and lost to CFP finalist No. 2 Alabama 42-35.
This matchup could be the story of a team, Penn State, that woefully under achieved and an Arkansas squad that overachieved. The nation seems to think this is the case, Penn State is a 59.9% favorite according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. However, Vegas is favoring the overachiever, Arkansas is a 2.5-point favorite in most betting sites.
Date: January 1, 2022
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Radio: 1210 WPHT and the Penn State Radio Network
This Game at a Glance
The story of this game isn’t who’s playing for James Franklin’s team, it’s about who isn’t playing. Penn State will be without offensive MVP Jahan Dotson and five defense starters on Saturday. In addition to Dotson, the Nittany Lions will be without All-American safety Jaquan Brisker, All-Big Ten defensive end/linebacker Arnold Ebiketie, defensive lineman Derrick Tangelo, and linebackers Brandon Smith and Ellis Brooks. They have opted out of the game to focus on upcoming draft preparations.
Brisker, Ebiketie, Tangelo, Smith, and Ellis statistically makeup 60% of Penn State’s defensive production. Penn State will be challenge to slow down an Arkansas team that is averaging 441-yards of total offense and 31.5-points per game.
While Penn State will be without Dotson, the majority of the offense will remain intact. Look for Franklin to lean heavily on the experience of quarterback Sean Clifford. The question will be whether or not the Nittany Lions offense can keep up with the pace that Arkansas might set.