Though he hasn’t confirmed it, all signs point to Penn State star receiver Jahan Dotson playing in the Outback Bowl.

Advantage Nittany Lions, who meet Arkansas of the SEC on New Year’s Day in Tampa.

And it’s not just Dotson’s presence that will boost the Lions to victory. Here are 5 reasons to expect Penn State (7-5, 4-5 B1G) to knock off Arkansas (8-4, 4-4 SEC) in the first meeting of the programs:

Dotson leads the Senior Bowl 6

Dotson leads a half dozen Lions committed to the Senior Bowl on Feb. 5, which indicates 2 things about those players: 1. They are moving on to the NFL, and 2. They think they still have something to prove to pro scouts. Given that, it seems logical that those players will play in PSU’s bowl game as well as the all-star exhibition a month later.

If so, that means the defense will have the services of key contributors Tariq Castro-Fields, Jaquan Brisker, Jesse Luketa and Arnold Ebiketie. And interim defensive play-caller Anthony Poindexter will need all those hands of deck considering that Penn State’s top 2 tacklers — LBs Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith — have opted out of any further college football.

Kicker/punter Jordan Stout should help dominate the field position battle against Arkansas before moving on to the Senior Bowl and then the NFL, too.

Had these 6 guys gone the way of Brooks and Smith, Penn State would be in deep trouble. Instead, the Lions should have the upper hand.

The opt-outs cancel out

While Penn State will need to scrambled at the linebacker position, Arkansas will be without its best offensive player, WR Treylon Burks, and its sacks leader, Tre Williams.

Burks is prepping for the NFL Draft after posting a 2021 line of 67 catches for 1,123 yards and 11 TDs. No other pass-catcher on the roster had more than 20 catches, 292 yards or 2 TDs. Quarterback KJ Jefferson’s comfort level should go down a notch or two without his favorite target on the field.

Williams, an edge rusher who led the Razorbacks with 6 sacks, is also looking ahead to the NFL Draft. He decided to opt out after a recent DUI arrest.

With both teams losing 2 key players to opt-outs, Penn State holds an advantage because of superior depth. In the 247Sports team talent composite rankings, the Lions stand 16th and the Hogs 28th. Penn State has 44 players on the roster rated 4-stars or better coming out of high school; Arkansas has 21.

Ji’Ayir Brown staying, playing

Over the days leading up to Christmas, several key Nittany Lions have announced plans to return to the program in 2022, most recently special teams captain Jonathan Sutherland and cornerback Joey Porter Jr.

But for the most savvy of PSU fans, safety Ji’Ayir Brown’s announced return tops them all. With fellow safety Jaquan Brisker and corner Tariq Castro-Fields moving on after this postseason, Brown will become the leader of the secondary — and probably the leader of the defense overall — in 2022. This year, he led the team in solo tackles and interceptions.

Having Brown for the Outback Bowl, playing with an eye toward taking a leadership role heading into next season, should keep the defensive players in a proper mind frame as they make their first impression on new DC Manny Diaz, who will be on hand though not calling plays.

QB experience matters

While Jefferson, Arkansas’ first-year starter, will take the field minus his top receiver, Sean Clifford will take 32 starts worth of experience to Tampa, not to mention some serious motivation.

Clifford will be out to prove to teammates, coaches and fans that his planned return for 2022 is a good thing for all involved, even incoming 5-star heir apparent Drew Allar. If the 23-year-old can play like the best version of himself, he’ll clearly look like the best option to face a tough early schedule in 2022 while early-enrollee Allar eases into college life.

Should the dual-threat Jefferson look like the best QB on the field, however, the clamor for Clifford to step aside will go up several decibels. And Jefferson is no slouch, even without Burks. He’s completed 66.9 percent of his passes this year for 2,578 yards and 21 TDs, with only 3 INTs. He also leads the team in carries and ranks 2nd in rushing yards with 554.

With nearly a month to heal up, Clifford should be able to give Jefferson a run for his money. If he can match what he did against Auburn and wind up 2-0 against the SEC this year, Clifford will quiet the critics and reassure the faithful. Given that Penn State has higher defensive rankings across the board, there’s a good chance that happens.

Arkansas’ defense is susceptible

Arkansas’ defense ranks in the middle of the pack in the SEC, but has struggled since losing standout safety Jalen Catalon to season-ending shoulder surgery.

Over the 6 games he played, Arkansas gave up an average of just 156 passing yards per game. Now, that number is up to 215.1. Arkansas allowed just 3 TD passes in the 6 games Catalon played. The Hogs allowed 12 in the other 6.

The Hogs finished 12th in the SEC in sacks with 23, and should struggle even more getting to Clifford with Williams not playing.

The Razorbacks surrendered at least 37 points in each of their 4 losses, including 38 to Auburn — a team PSU held to 20 points. The point differential against that one common opponent is +23 in favor of Penn State.