After smashing expectations in Mel Tucker’s second season at the helm, the Michigan State Spartans will travel to Georgia for their first Peach Bowl appearance against Pittsburgh.
In Atlanta, the Spartans will face a Pittsburgh team that dominated Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game after going 10-2 in regular-season play.
The New Year’s Six pairing boasts two defensive-minded coaches leading teams with explosive offenses and a Heisman Trophy candidate on each.
However, both of those candidates have opted out of the game and the odds have shifted quite a bit because of the absences.
Will the Spartans hold off the Panthers and cap coach Mel Tucker’s breakthrough season? Here’s the early look, and visit our college football bowls schedule page for more on the busy next few weeks to come.
Peach Bowl Odds: Michigan State vs. Pittsburgh
Early odds give Pittsburgh the early edge
Not all Michigan sportsbooks had odds immediately ready after pairings were revealed on the College Football Playoff selection show Sunday afternoon. FanDuel Sportsbook’s came first and opened with Pittsburgh as a 4-point favorite over Michigan State.
FanDuel predicted an over/under of 63.5 points and set moneylines for the Panthers at -176 and the Spartans at +142. By Monday morning, more odds trickled in.
At BetMGM Sportsbook, the Panthers were giving up 3.5 points with an over/under prediction of 62.5. The moneylines ranged from –175 for Pitt and +145 for Michigan State.
DraftKings Sportsbook set the over/under at 64 with a moneyline of -180 for four-point favorite Pitt and +155 for Michigan State.
The Spartans went 8-3-1 against the spread this season while the Panthers were 8-4. Pittsburgh was the favorite in all of its matchups this season, including against Wake Forest.
How to watch the Peach Bowl: No. 10 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 12 Pittsburgh Panthers
- What: Michigan State (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) vs. Pittsburgh (11-2, 7-1 ACC)
- When: 7 p.m., ET, Dec. 30
- Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
- TV: ESPN (Announcers: Mark Jones, Robert Griffin III, Quint Kessenich)
- Radio: Spartan Media Network
Michigan State silences critics with historic season
Nobody expected much from Tucker’s unranked Spartans heading into this season. DraftKings gave the team an over/under of just five wins early on.
Michigan State went 2-5 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season when Tucker’s tenure began, so the cloudy forecast did not surprise.
But Tucker and his squad demolished expectations by going 10-2 and finishing with a No. 10 College Football Playoff ranking.
Tucker also joined a list of just two Michigan State coaches, Duffy Daugherty and Mark Dantonio, to win 10 regular-season games. Dantonio’s squad was the most recent to win 10 in 2015.
The two blemishes on the record weren’t shockers. Purdue gave the first punch, 40-29, after the Boilermakers used trick plays and the like to get the win against Michigan State. The Boilermakers also upset the Iowa Hawkeyes, making good on their reputation for knocking off big teams.
Then of course came the 56-7 monstrosity, courtesy of the Ohio State Bullies, er, Buckeyes. The Spartans went into that contest as 19-point underdogs and were blitzed.
A highlight that outshines both losses of course came on Oct. 30, when the Spartans handed Michigan its only loss, 37-33.
Michigan State stayed ranked in the top 10 for most of the season and Tucker secured a 10-year, $95 million contract extension for his efforts in turning around the program.
The Spartans finished the regular season averaging about 32 points a game, nearly double their average of 18 points last season.
Quarterback Payton Thorne, running back Kenneth Walker III and receiver Jayden Reed are the top three offensive leaders heading into the matchup.
Thorne finished regular-season play with 206 completions on 339 tries. He threw for 2,886 yards and 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He added 177 rushing yards and four scores on the ground.
Heisman Trophy contender Walker III carried the ball 263 times for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns, finishing second in the nation behind Central Michigan’s Lew Nichols III. As of Sunday afternoon, Walker III was still listed as a distant Heisman hope, getting +5000 odds from BetMGM. Walker has opted out of the Peach Bowl though.
Reed had 52 catches for 946 yards and eight touchdowns.
Pittsburgh thumps Wake Forest, snags ACC title
The Pittsburgh Panthers capped their 10-win regular season by flexing a 45-21 victory over Wake Forest in Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference showdown.
After Pittsburgh scored first on a 58-yard Kenny Pickett run, the teams traded scores before Wake Forest added two touchdowns to end the first quarter up 21-14.
The Demon Deacons didn’t score again.
Pickett finished 20-for-33 with 253 yards and two touchdowns on top of his rushing score.
Jordan Addison had eight receptions for 126 yards. Receivers Jordan Addison and Jared Wayne each caught a touchdown.
Israel Abanikanda had nine carries for 55 yards and two touchdowns.
Both Pittsburgh losses were close, including a 44-41 stunner against Western Michigan in Week 3.
Against Miami, the Hurricanes jumped ahead in the first quarter. The Pirates played catch up, finally tying it at 31-all near the end of the third quarter, but Miami scored again.
Pittsburgh kicked a field goal to make it 38-34 early in the fourth quarter, but fell short of a go-ahead score.
Following Saturday’s title game, the Panthers are scoring an average of 43 points.
There’s an “old friend” tie here, too, as Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi was Michigan State’s defensive coordinator for eight seasons from 2007-2014.
Michigan State dominates short, dated history against Pitt
Michigan State and Pittsburgh have played each other just seven times: in 1945, 1950, 1951, 1958, 1960, 2006 and 2007.
The Spartans have six wins, with the other result being a tie in 1960. Michigan State won the most recent meeting 17-13 on Sept. 15, 2007 in East Lansing. It’s the first time the teams have faced each other in the offseason.
LSU beat Florida State 31-27 when the Peach Bowl debuted in 1968. Chick-fil-A became a sponsor for the game in 1997, and that sponsorship has continued. From 2006 until 2013, the annual bowl game was referred to as the Chick-fil-A Bowl.