By: Aidan Champion
Despite the opportunities that were all at one point or another in front of Michigan State football this season, a trip to a New Year’s Six bowl should undoubtedly be considered a success.
The Spartans enter bowl season as a top-10 team in the nation, an accomplishment that almost doesn’t seem real for a team that had been projected to finish in the bottom of the pack in the Big Ten before the start of the season.
But the job’s not finished for Mel Tucker and his overachieving squad, as MSU is going to look to go out with a bang when it travels to Atlanta for a matchup with the ACC champions, No. 12 Pittsburgh in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 30.
The biggest question surrounding this game is whether or not fans will be seeing Heisman Trophy candidate Kenny Pickett take the field behind center for the Panthers.
The star quarterback is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the prospect to sit out of the bowl game to avoid any risk.
Should Pickett play, though, the stakes would be at an ultimate high, as MSU running back Kenneth Walker III was recently snubbed of a spot as a Heisman Trophy finalist. You can nearly guarantee that the standout running back would like nothing more than to outperform Pickett in a New Year’s Six showdown and prove to the college football world that he should have traveled to New York.
However, some Spartan fans might be content with an absence of Pickett, considering the QB ranks seventh in the country in passing yards per game with 332.23, while leading the third-best scoring offense in college football.
As most fans know, to say the MSU secondary is the Spartans’ most prominent weak link is quite the understatement.
MSU has already faced the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring offenses in Ohio State and Western Kentucky, respectively, and each team torched the Spartans with over 400 passing yards in their head-to-head matchups.
The most significant threat the MSU defense will be facing is wide receiver Jordan Addison, who just recorded 126 receiving yards against Wake Forest in the ACC title game. He’s sixth in the nation in receiving yards per game with 113.8.
Pittsburgh also ranks sixth in all of college football in rushing defense, allowing just 91.8 rushing yards per game. It still might not be wise to count out Walker and the rest of the MSU backfield, but this will be the best rushing defense the Spartans have faced all season.
The Panthers do lack in production in passing defense, though, as Pittsburgh allows 257.4 passing yards per game, a statistic that should appear promising to Spartan QB Payton Thorne and receiver Jayden Reed. WR2 Jalen Nailor could also very well be back for the bowl game.
MSU will have had plenty of time to get its best players healthy by the time Dec. 30 rolls around. We could be seeing a starting lineup very similar to that of the start of the season, and that would be big for a Spartan team that suffered greatly in the latter half of the season due to injuries.
The Peach Bowl kicks off at 7 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Written by: Aidan Champion
Aidan is an MSU Journalism Student and Spartan Football writer for: impact89fm.org
Photo Courtesy of The Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl Twitter