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TOC Staff Picks: Pittsburgh vs. Michigan State

The Spartans have an opportunity to reach 11 wins and get a New Year’s Six bowl victory.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After an incredible regular season, Michigan State has an opportunity to reach 11 wins and secure a New Year’s Six bowl victory with a matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Peach Bowl.

A win would give the Spartans their sixth 11-win season in program history. All of those seasons have come since 2010. MSU enters as around a three-point favorite.

Both teams will be missing some big time pieces, as Kennth Walker III will sit out for the Spartans and Kenny Pickett will be not play for Pitt. Pitt also has a few others opting to skip the contest.

Will the ACC champions emerge victorious or will MSU help elevate the Big Ten’s bowl record? See what our writers have to say about the primetime matchup.

Ryan O’Bleness

Michigan State 35, Pittsburgh 31

This is an intriguing matchup. Both teams are without All-Americans, as Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett opted out, and Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III also elected not to play in preparation for the 2022 NFL Draft. Pittsburgh cornerback Damarri Mathis and wide receiver Taysir Mack have also opted out of the Peach Bowl. So, what does Pittsburgh look like with Nick Patti under center? My guess is not the top-five passing offense or top-five scoring offense that Pitt was with Pickett at the helm, but maybe Patti will surprise us. And for Michigan State, without Walker, I could see the running game struggling against a Pitt defense that only gives up 2.74 yards per carry and 91.8 rushing yards per game (No. 6 nationally). The Panthers also rank second in the nation in sacks.

Overall, though, I think Michigan State is the more complete team that has faced tougher competition this season. I expect Payton Thorne and the Spartans to move the ball through the air and put up a decent amount of points. The Panthers get a late touchdown to make the final score closer than it actually is.

Kevin Knight

Michigan State 48, Pittsburgh 35

This game still feels like it will be more heavy on the offense than a low scoring affair. With Pitt replacing the offensive coordinator (Mark Whipple) and quarterback (Pickett), Michigan State should have the advantage as the backup running backs are still very good, if not the rare elite player that Walker was.

Paul Fanson

Michigan State 38, Pittsburgh 28

In all previous cases, I have simply provided my computer’s prediction for the Michigan State game in question, but in this case I am going to go with my gut. Similar to the opening Vegas line, my computer likes Pittsburgh by about two points, but that is assuming that both teams have full rosters. That is not going to be the case.

While MSU is going to miss Kenneth Walker, Pitt is going to miss Kenny Pickett more. Both teams will struggle to run the ball, but Payton Thorne is going to light up the Panther secondary, thanks in large part to a healthy Jalen Nailor. The ACC is just not a strong conference this year, and the Spartans are going to expose their champion.

Zach Manning

Michigan State 34, Pittsburgh 31

I don’t think points will be hard to come by in this one, as both offenses have been pretty explosive this season. Replacing a quarterback seems harder than replacing a running back, so I think MSU squeaks this one out.

Matt Sheehan

Michigan State 42, Pittsburgh 10

My picks have gone so horrible this year that I’ve given this pick to my dad. He says “MSU, lock it in. There’s no doubt. Pitt’s backup quarterback is a hack-fest.”

David Harns

Michigan State 33, Pittsburgh 24

With Pickett and Walker both sitting, Michigan State should be able to pull this one out.

Matt Hoeppner

Michigan State 38, Pittsburgh 35

This will be a high scoring back-and-forth game with a lot of entertainment value even with each team’s best offensive player sitting out. The Spartans do just enough to get the win on a late touchdown from Payton Thorne to Jayden Reed.


Michigan State 27, Pittsburgh 24

Both teams enter the game without their star offensive players, but I think attrition will be more problematic for Pittsburgh. Not only is Kenny Pickett unavailable to Pitt, but the Panthers’ offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple, has left for Nebraska. In replacement, Tim Salem — brother to former Michigan State offensive coordinator Brad Salem — will be making the offensive calls. Pitt also has a very good rush defense, so I think regardless of Kenneth Walker’s presence, MSU would have had difficulties running the ball. I’m envisioning MSU moving the ball through the air with the return of Jalen Nailor along with some improved defensive back play after the Spartans have had time to heal and regroup. It should be a close and entertaining game.

Justin Walsh

Michigan State 31, Pittsburgh 17

This is a tough game to predict, as both teams will be without their best offensive players. However, Michigan State has plenty of playmakers available for this game, including both Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. Pitt will likely have a tough time getting its offense up and running after replacing Heisman finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett, and MSU will outscore the Panthers to earn the victory.