This college football bowl season has been a fun ride yet again, but the time has arrived for the serious business to commence as the New Year’s Six slate kicks off on Thursday night. It begins with the Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with No. 10 Michigan State battling No. 12 Pittsburgh in a matchup featuring Big Ten and ACC foes.
Pitt comes into the game as ACC champions after beating Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game 45-21. The Panthers went 11-2 during the regular season, thanks mainly to Heisman finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett. He led an offense that scored 43 points per game this season, a tally that ranks third nationally. The Panthers come into the game having won five straight, and their only two losses came to Western Michigan (one of the bigger head-scratchers of the year) and Miami by a combined total of seven points.
Michigan State is 10-2 and finished in third place in the Big Ten East Division despite a conference record of 7-2. It’s a disappointing finish when you consider that the Spartans were the only Big Ten team to beat eventual conference champion Michigan, but lost the following week to Purdue. That, coupled with a 56-7 loss to Ohio State, kept the Spartans out of the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan State has dominated the all-time series between the programs, winning six of the seven meetings (the teams tied 7-7 in 1960). Still, while meetings between the programs are rare, there’s plenty of familiarity in play. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi was Michigan State’s defensive coordinator from 2007 to 2014.
Michigan State vs. Pitt: Need to know
Neither Kenny Pickett nor Kenneth Walker III will play: Unfortunately, two of the game’s biggest headliners will not be playing. Kenny Pickett (third in Heisman voting) and Kenneth Walker (sixth) decided to opt out of the game to prepare themselves for the NFL Draft. While it stinks for the fans, it’s hard to blame either player. Pickett returned to college for another season hoping to improve his NFL Draft stock and did just that, throwing for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns.
Walker transferred to Michigan State from Wake Forest to find more playing time and took advantage. Walker was one of the bigger surprises of the 2021 season, rushing for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns and giving the Spartans offense a home run threat every time he touched the ball.
Nick Patti is expected to start at QB in place of Pickett, while Jordan Simmons is likely to take over most of Walker’s workload.
Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of penalty flags: Penalties aren’t a statistic you want to lead the country in, but both Pitt and Michigan State tried. The Spartans were called for an average of seven penalties per game for 66.3 yards. Pitt averaged 6.9 penalties per game for 66.5 yards. Michigan State’s 66.3 penalty yards per game ranked 110th nationally, one spot ahead of the Panthers in 111th. So if you see a lot of flags in this game, don’t automatically assume it’s the officiating calling the game tight.
A win would give Pitt its best season since 1976: It was in 1976 that the Panthers went 12-0 and won a national title. That was the program’s first national title since the 1937 season, and the Panthers have not won a title since. While winning this game won’t bring a national title, matching the program’s single-season record of 12 wins would be something of which to be proud.
How to watch Peach Bowl live
Game: Peach Bowl
Date: Thursday, December 30 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium — Atlanta, GA
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Peach Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | Michigan State Spartans vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Pitt opened as a favorite in this game and became an underdog when Pickett opted out. It’s the first time it’ll have been an underdog this season and it’s hard to argue with the line movement. Simply put, even though both teams lost their most important player on offense, replacing a quarterback is a lot more challenging than replacing a running back. Furthermore, it’s not just Pickett that’s missing from the Pitt offense, but offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Considering all of this, it’s hard to go against Michigan State. That said, given the struggles of the Spartans secondary this season, it’s hard to feel confident about it. Prediction: Michigan State (-2.5)
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