No. 10 Michigan State football will also have their other standout receiver Jayden Reed active and ready to rock in the Peach Bowl against no. 12 Pittsburgh Thursday night.
The bad news, of course, superstar running back and potential first-round selection Kenneth Walker III will not be suiting up for the Spartans. Pittsburgh will be without their Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback, Kenny Pickett, who will also sit out as he prepares for the NFL Draft. It’s unfortunate, but you can’t really blame a player for making a business decision to sit out of this glorified exhibition game.
I will say this; these games do serve a purpose for fringe draft picks; players that might go undrafted now may play themselves into the later rounds, players that are expected to be later-round choices may perform well enough to be a mid-round or day two pick. The higher a player gets drafted, the more money they earn as a rookie, so not only does this ‘glorified exhibition’ generate millions for the universities, it also gives day two and beyond players the opportunity to increase their draft stock.
Walker rushed for 1,646 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2021 during his one season with the Spartans after transferring from Wake Forest. The Spartans will likely lean on Jordan Simmons in this one and even mix in Elijah Collins, who carried the football just 12 times totaling 87 yards in 2021; that after being the program’s lead back two years ago. Simmons totaled 255 yards on 54 totes in ’21. In 2019, Collins galloped for 988 yards scoring five rushing touchdowns on 222 carries.
There is an obvious connection between these two programs. The Panthers are led by head coach Pat Narduzzi who served as Michigan State football’s defensive coordinator for seven seasons between 2007 to 2014.
The Panthers are expected to start Nick Patti at quarterback. Pickett is scheduled to be a mid-first-round selection, but in a draft class without a quarterback worthy of being a top choice may see his stock climb into the top ten as the draft approaches. Pickett tossed for 42 touchdowns and 4,319 yards this past season.
I expect the Spartans to feature more of their passing game than we’re used to witnessing, with Payton Thorne often looking for his trio of talented pass-catchers. Thorne totaled 2,886 yards and 24 touchdowns to go with nine interceptions.
Reed led the Spartans with 946 yards on 53 catches totaling eight receiving touchdowns. Reed is also a dynamic returner and totaled 376 return yards this past season.
Reed played his way into being a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, which goes to the nation’s most versatile player. Nailor made 31 grabs and totaled 587 receiving yards averaging 18.9 yards per catch in 2021, totaling six receiving touchdowns. Tre Mosley is the third member of the dynamic trio; he’s hauled in 30 balls totaling 472 yards and three touchdowns.
Michigan State football betting odds and prediction
The Spartans opened as dogs in this matchup until word broke that Kenny Pickett would be opting-out to prepare for the NFL Draft.
WynnBET now has Michigan football as the 2.5 favorites. The Under/Over is currently set at 56.0 with an odds of -110. The Moneyline is -135 to Michigan State and +115 to Pittsburgh.
Although I feel losing Walker III will be a significant loss for the Spartans offense, they will generate points with their experienced backfield and the trio of receivers.
Even knowing the Spartan secondary is atrocious, the loss of Pickett at quarterback will be too much for the Panthers to overcome. I’ve got Michigan State covering the 2.5 points in this one.
This game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Est. Thursday, December 30th and will be aired on ESPN.