James Franklin didn’t have much time to follow up on potential bowl destinations for the Penn State football team, so he couldn’t say he was surprised the Nittany Lions received an invite on Sunday to the Outback Bowl versus Arkansas.
Franklin, the Penn State coach, was on his way to recruit as day one of signing approached and was on the hunt for a new defensive coordinator after longtime assistant Brent Pry left to coach -Head of Virginia Tech.
“I spent my time recruiting, practicing bowling, hiring a defensive coordinator and spending time with my family,” Franklin said Sunday night. “I try to spend as little energy as possible on things that are beyond my control. “
Penn State (7-5) will return to the Outback Bowl for the first time in 11 years and face the No.21 Razorbacks (8-4) at noon on New Years Day at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
This will be the first meeting between the Lions and Arkansas.
“I think they’re incredibly excited,” Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman said of his players. “I mean, not a lot of it in there that went into a bowl. So to get to a New Year’s Bowl, and as prestigious as the Outback Bowl, they’ll be ready. They will be excited. This will make it a bit easier for them to practice.
The Razorbacks, making their first bowl appearance in five years, are tied for third with Texas A&M and Mississippi State in the West Division of the Southeastern Conference, behind Alabama and Mississippi. They will make their first appearance in a bowl game in Florida since 2006.
Penn State’s last Outback Bowl appearance was a 37-24 loss to Florida on Jan. 1, 2011. It was the last of 37 bowl games for the late Joe Paterno, longtime Lions coach.
This will be Penn State’s seventh appearance in Franklin’s eight seasons. The Lions did not play to a bowl last year after going 4-5.
“I met Coach Franklin, but I don’t know him much better than that,” Pittman said. “Just a lot of really positive things people who worked with him said about him. Very successful guy, very smart guy, great football spirit.
“Sure, Penn State is one of the historic programs in the country.”
Pittman is 11-11 in his second season as Arkansas coach after spending the previous four seasons in Georgia as an associate head coach and offensive line coach.
“I haven’t had a chance to study them yet,” Franklin said of the Hogs. “I have a lot of respect for this conference. I know it well. I have a lot of respect for what Sam has done in a short period of time. Sam brought a tough, uncompromising positive energy to Arkansas. “
Penn State played in the Outback Bowl in 1995, 1998, 2006 and 2010, going 3-1 against Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.
Arkansas made their first bowl appearance in five years since losing to Virginia Tech 35-24 in the Belk Bowl.
Arkansas opened the season with back-to-back wins over Rice, Texas, Georgia Southern and Texas A&M before dropping three back-to-back wins to Georgia, Mississippi and Auburn. The Razorbacks finished the regular season with four wins in their last five games, defeating Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi State, LSU and Missouri and losing to Alabama.
Two-threat quarterback KJ Jefferson completed 66.9% of his passes for 2,578 yards and 21 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He also racked up 554 yards and five touchdowns.
Treylon Burks is the SEC’s fourth-best receiver with 66 receptions for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. Trelon Smith, who ran for 592 yards and five goals, is among the four fullbacks with at least 43 carries.
The Hogs are ranked 30th nationally in total offense, 13th in runs, 73rd in assists and 44th in points (31.5). On the other side of the ball, they are 58th in total defense, 73rd in ground defense, 44th in pass defense and 24th in points allowed (24.0).