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Heisman contenders Kenneth Walker III, Kenny Pickett collide in Peach Bowl

Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III and Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett have been two of the most outstanding players in College Football this season

Two of college football’s most outstanding players will share the field at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 30 in Atlanta, Ga.

Michigan State tailback Kenneth Walker III and Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett have been two of the leading candidates Heisman Trophy in 2021, and the two will square off in a matchup between the No. 10 Spartans and No. 12 Panthers.

“It's a great match-up,” said Gary Stokan, president and CEO of Peach Bowl, Inc. “Two of the greatest players in the game right now, Kenny Pickett and Kenneth Walker, both of who should be in New York at the Heisman Trophy dinner.”

In the modern era of college football, several superstar players from teams that don’t reach the College Football Playoff opt out of their bowl games – but, for now, both Walker and Pickett are expected to compete in Atlanta.

“I haven't heard from any of the guys that they've decided not to play,” said Michigan State coach Mel Tucker. “At this point I'm assuming everyone is going to play, but if something changes I will certainly make sure everyone knows that.”

Likewise, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi wasn’t surprised when Pickett informed him of his intention to play against the Spartans.

“Not at all. That's who Kenny Pickett is,” Narduzzi said. “That's what our team is all about. It's not about Kenny, it's about our football team. I think they think bigger than that. It's a team-oriented team, and they're unselfish, and they play for each other. I think that's the most impressive part about this football team, and that's why we are where we are today.”

Walker is currently the second-leading rusher in college football with 1,636 rushing yards on 263 carries. His 18 rushing touchdowns rank eighth in the nation.

Pitt has been one of the top teams in the country in stopping the run. The Panthers’ defense ranks No. 6 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (91.2). Earlier this season against Syracuse, the ACC’s top rushing team and the 18th-best ground attack in the country, Pittsburgh limited the Orange to just 25 yards rushing in a 31-14 victory.

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But despite the success his defense has had against the run, Narduzzi isn’t overlooking the stud tailback from Michigan State.

Yeah, we haven't played Kenneth Walker yet,” Narduzzi said. “I haven't watched a ton of tape. I've probably watched two or three games. He's a great running back. He can run. He's fast.”

Ironically, had Walker not transferred to East Lansing from his previous school, Narduzzi and Pittsburgh would have had to deal with Walker this past Saturday, in the ACC Championship game.

“Obviously, he's a transfer from Wake Forest, and I know [Wake Forest head coach Dave] Clawson speaks highly of him,” Narduzzi said. “We know what kind of athlete he is. It'll be a big challenge, and just because you stop one at Syracuse doesn't mean you can stop one at Michigan State. It'll take a lot of work, and it'll be a challenge.”

While the matchup between Kenneth Walker and Pitt’s run defense matchup will be strength against strength, that certainly will not be the case when Kenny Pickett lines up across MSU’s pass defense.

The Spartans are dead last – 130th out of 130 FBS teams – in passing yards allowed per game (337.7), and showed their susceptibility for giving up big plays down the field in a 56-7 loss to Ohio State in Week 12.

Pickett is fifth in the nation with 4,319 passing yards, and third nationally with 42 passing touchdowns. The senior has a completion percentage of 67.2, with seven interceptions on the season.

“I have not seen any coaches' copy tape on him yet, but I've seen some highlights,” Tucker said. “I know he's a great player, so I know we're going to have to do a much better job on our pass defense. We've got to tighten up some areas. We've got to get some guys back healthy in order to be able to have a chance to contain him and slow him down.”

In addition to being contenders for the Heisman Trophy, Walker and Pickett are each one of five finalists for the Maxwell Award. In addition, Walker is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award – given annually to the nation’s top running back – while Pickett is a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award – given annually to the nation’s best quarterback.

The winners of these national awards will be announced on Saturday, Dec. 11, well before Pickett and Walker meet on Dec. 30 in Atlanta. No matter who wins this award or that award, it will be fun and exciting to see what these two incredible players do for their respective teams in the Peach Bowl.