Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Michigan State Spartans: Peach Bowl Prediction & Game Preview - 12/30/2021

by Chuck Sommers

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Game time: 7 p.m. ET; Dec. 30, 2021
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Where to watch: ESPN

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks


DraftKings: Michigan State -1.5
BetMGM: Michigan State -1.5
Caesars: Michigan State -1.5

Season record
No. 12 Pittsburgh: 11-2 (ACC Champs)
No. 10 Michigan State: 10-2

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Pittsburgh - Michigan State preview and analysis


Oh, the star power we get in the Peach Bowl.

The Michigan State Spartans and Pittsburgh Panthers will meet in Atlanta for what could be the best pre-New Year’s game on the docket and it’s not even close.

Not only do we get the star-tandem from the ACC champions in Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett and Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison for Pittsburgh, but we get the Offensive Player of the Year and should-have-been Heisman finalist Kenneth Walker III on the side of the Spartans.

And how about this battle of offenses? Pitt averaged 43 points per game en route to their first high-profiled bowl game since the Fiesta Bowl in 2004. In the seventh year under head coach Pat Narduzzi, this is the Panthers’ fifth bowl appearance and by far his best season of his tenure.

And it has all to do with the two guys mentioned at the top.

Pickett, the senior quarterback, has been torching defenses and exploiting matchups all season long with ease. His 4,319 yards are by far his best ever, and his 42 touchdown passes were three more than he had in his first four years combined.

The Panthers lost to the Miami Hurricanes on Oct. 30 to put a damper on their 6-1 start, but closed out the rest of the way 5-0 with Pickett leading the way. He averaged 321 passing yards while throwing 16 touchdowns to only four interceptions. He threw for 253 and two touchdowns in the ACC title victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Along the way was Addison and his record-breaking season. In his final six games, he had 809 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 15 yards per reception. The only receiver to put up better numbers than the sophomore? Larry Fitzgerald. Not bad company to be a part of. Whether he comes out for the NFL Draft and joins his quarterback teammate is something to consider, especially with North Carolina’s Josh Downs gunning for him.

Opposite is the best running back in the country from East Lansing, a former Wake Forest transfer who got his opportunity under head coach Mel Tucker and ran with it. There were only four games he didn’t run for 100 yards, most notably his 6-carry, 25-yard effort against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Nov. 20, but teams haven’t been able to take him down all year.

Tucker is 36 carries from a 300-touch season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get there. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, with his best performance coming against the College Football Playoff-bound Michigan Wolverines on Oct. 30; 23 carries, 197 yards and five touchdowns that should’ve cemented his Heisman status. But alas, voters are weird.

Walker’s play has allowed a comfortable season for quarterback Payton Thorne, who completed 60.8 percent of his passes to go with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The Spartans were a playoff-caliber team before their defense gave out in the final month. In losses to Purdue and Ohio State, MSU gave up 40 and 56 points respectively. They even gave up 33 in the come-from-behind win over Michigan. 

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has only allowed 23.1 points per game while holding rushing attacks to 91.2 yards per game. That defense has allowed Pitt’s offense to average over 500 yards per game en route to a five-game winning streak. 

Prediction


The game is going to come down to Thorne playing mistake-free football. If he can’t get going, it’s going to be hard to get Walker going. Pittsburgh won’t have much to get its offense rolling, and they’ll attack the MSU secondary early and often. Pittsburgh by 10

Betting trends


Pittsburgh is 10-3 ATS this season and 21-14 over its last 35.

Pittsburgh is 7-0 straight up following a bye week.

Michigan State is 8-11 ATS in its last 19 December games.

Statistical leaders


Pittsburgh:
Passing: Kenny Pickett – 4,319 yards, 42 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Israel Abanikanda – 635 yards, 7 TD
Receiving: Jordan Addison – 1,479 yards, 17 TD

Michigan State:
Passing: Payton Thorne – 2,886 yards, 24 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Kenneth Walker III – 1,636 yards, 18 TD
Receiving: Jayden Reed – 946 yards, 8 TD

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Chuck Sommers

About the Author:

Chuck Sommers has camped outside of sportsbooks since he can remember, learning the tricks and nuances of the trade. He still has nightmares of betting $5,000 on the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game but has since turned that to 25 years of veteran handicapping greatness. You can find him mostly in the shadows at the Red Rock or Aliante casinos wondering if the over is cashing on any given Sunday.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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