It would certainly would have been fun to watch Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III and Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett do their thing in the Peach Bowl, but both players opted out of the game as the stars don’t want to jeopardize their NFL draft prospects.
Pittsburgh opened as a 4½-point favorite but the line shifted to Michigan State being favored after Pickett announced that he would be skipping the bowl game, so the departure of the Heisman Trophy finalist resonated with those who bet online.
Eight teams had better odds than Pittsburgh (+5000) to win the ACC title coming into the season, but the Panthers emerged as surprising conference champions
The Panthers easily topped their expected win total of seven while Michigan State was even more surprising, winning 10 games while having an expected win total of 3½.
Game: Pittsburgh (11-2) vs. Michigan State (10-2)
Location: Mercedez-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Day/Time: Thursday, Dec. 30, 7 p.m. ET
|Pittsburgh||+2½ (-105)||+115||56 (-110o)|
|Michigan State||-2½ (-115)||-135||56 (-110u)|
Addison Closing in on 100 Catches for Pitt
When Jordan Addison committed to play for the Pittsburgh Panthers, it was thought that he would make an impact on the defensive side of the ball.
Addison was listed as a safety and the No. 275 player in the Class of 2020, according to the 247sports.com recruiting database. However, instead of trying to slow down opposing receivers, Addison has emerged as one of the nation’s best pass catchers.
No player from a Power-5 Conference has more receiving yards than the 1,479 Addison amassed in 13 games. His 17 touchdown catches are tied with Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns for the national lead. Sterns has already played in his bowl game so the opportunity is there for Addison to finish as the national leader.
Addison had four touchdown catches in a win over Virginia and had two other games with three TD catches. It will a little different for him since Pickett won’t be playing in the bowl game. But he will be facing a Michigan State defense that ranked last in the Big Ten with 337.7 passing yards allowed per game. That total ranks 130th out of 130 FBS teams and the 46.3 passes attempted per game are the most in the nation.
Michigan State allowed 985 passing yards in its two losses.
Pittsburgh has covered against the college football odds in eight of its last 10 games.
Three Players to Watch
Addison leads the Panthers with 93 catches for 1,479 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has four 100-yard efforts in his last six games. Linebacker SirVocea Dennis leads Pittsburgh with 81 tackles and also has 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Defensive lineman Habakuk Baldonado has 41 tackles, 12 sacks and a team-leading nine sacks.
Receiver Jaylon Barden and Taysir Mack are questionable. Running back A.J. Davis is out. Pickett and defensive back Damarri Mathis opted out of the game. Pickett finished third in the 2021 Heisman Trophy voting while Mathis was one of four Panthers to return an interception for a touchdown.
— Kenny Pickett (@kennypickett10) December 17, 2021
Pass Rush Boosted Michigan State
Expectations were pretty low for the Michigan State Spartans coming into the season. An almost nonexistent pass rush was one of the reasons that the Spartans finish 2020 with a 2-5 record. The season came to an end with Michigan State not recording a sack and having only two tackles for loss in a 39-24 loss to Penn State.
Things were much more different in 2021. The Spartans led the Big Ten with 38 sacks and finished fourth with 75 tackles for loss. There were plenty of opportunities for Michigan State to get after the quarterback because no FBS team faced more passing attempts than the 556 against the Spartans.
The Spartans had 12 sacks in 2020 and it took them four games to top that mark this season. It happened when they had seven sacks in a win over Nebraska, the most in a game for Michigan State since the 2015 season opener against Michigan.
It has been a team effort as eight different players had at least two sacks, led by Jacub Panasiuk’s six. Panasiuk also has 11 of the Spartans’ 32 quarterback hurries. What’s even more impressive about that number is that the 11 hurries matched the number given up by the Michigan State offense.
Michigan State is 6-2 against the college football spreads in its last eight games.
Three Players to Watch
Quarterback Payton Thorne has thrown for 2,879 yards with 24 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Receiver Jayden Reed has 53 catches for 946 receiving yards and can become the first Michigan State player with 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Aaron Burbridge in 2015. Safety Xavier Henderson has 94 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Defensive tackle Simeon Barrow, offensive linemen Matt Carrick and Jarrett Horst, receivers Jalen Nailor and Ian Stewart are questionable. Running back Kenneth Walker opted out of the bowl game after declaring for the NFL draft. Jack Camper is out.
Betting on the Game
Quarterbacks not named Pickett attempted 18 passes while Jordon Simmons’ 54 rushing attempts ranked second among Michigan State running backs.
The total listed by the Las Vegas odds have gone over in 14 of Pittsburgh’s last 20 games.
Pittsburgh has lost seven of its last eight games against teams from the Big Ten Conference.
Pittsburgh is 1-4 against the spread in its last five games as the underdog while Michigan State is 6-1 in its last seven games as the favorite.
The total has gone over in four of Michigan State’s last five games.