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Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 10 Michigan State vs No. 12 Pittsburgh
The 2021 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl presents a Big Ten versus Atlantic Coast Conference matchup, featuring the #10 Michigan State Spartans and the #12 Pittsburgh Panthers.
MSU had a remarkable turnaround of a season, finishing 10-2, while the unlikely Pitt Panthers won the ACC with an 11-2 season.
However, with two of the biggest stars missing for each team, this contest is not as open-and-shut as it may have seemed to be.
Michigan State enjoyed one of its best seasons in program history this year and rewarded Head Coach Mel Tucker with a lucrative, near $100 million deal. The Spartans finished the campaign 2-1 against ranked sides, including a 37-33 victory over No. 6 Michigan.
Running back Kenneth Walker III was the engine that made the team tick, going over 1,600 yards on the ground with 18 touchdowns; however, the star back has opted out of the upcoming Bowl game, leaving the ground duties in the hands of sophomore Jordon Simmons, who is yet to score this season. Quarterback Payton Thorne will retain his spot under center, having tossed 2,886 yards, 24 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
MSU’s defense started the year fairly well but allowed 35.4 points per game to opponents over the final five games of the regular season. They do not force a ton of turnovers, but they did generate the 12th-most sacks in America as a team.
On the other side, Pitt’s 11-2 record and conference championship came as a surprise to many, with schools like Clemson, North Carolina, and Miami drawing greater expectations over the offseason. The Panthers head into the Peach Bowl riding a five-game win streak, most recently beating No. 16 Wake Forest 45-21.
The ACC champs will be severely disadvantaged in the upcoming clash, however, having to play without quarterback and Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett, who opted out ahead of next year’s NFL draft. Pickett was responsible for 4,560 yards and 47 total touchdowns and was the clear driving force of the offense— his replacement, junior Nick Patti, is 12-14 for 140 yards this season.
The Panthers play an aggressive man coverage style of defense and are not hesitant to bring the heat on third down. Typically, if a team has early success against their secondary, they struggle to adjust, but if they get off to a hot start, they will make it a long day for whoever is in the opposing backfield.
Michigan State is a -2.5 (-115) favorite while Pittsburgh is a +2.5 (-105) underdog in the impending battle; the Spartans are also -1142 on the moneyline to the Panthers’ +116.
The points total has been set at 56 with (-110) odds on the over and under.
Although both teams will be missing their standout players, the loss of the quarterback should prove to be more damaging than the running back, which favors Michigan State.
On top of that, Pitt’s ACC background is not overly impressive, due to the lack of competition within the conference. Michigan State is battle-tested, and although they did not always come out on top, they are used to playing tougher teams with greater stakes. The smart money is on the Spartans to win and win by a decent margin on Thursday.
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