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Staff predictions: No. 10 Michigan State, No. 12 Pittsburgh meet in Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Hey, Spartan Nation! It's GameDay! Bold Prediction, Game Preview and Score Predictions are all here, brought to you by the staff of Spartan Nation!

Get Up, Spartan Nation! It’s GameDay!

There’s a lot on the line today in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, as No. 10 Michigan State gets set to battle the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 12 Pittsburgh. The Spartans are seeking their first 11-win season since 2015, and their first win in a New Year’s Six Bowl since 2014, when they knocked off Baylor in a Cotton Bowl classic.

The Panthers are seeking their first 12-win season since 1976, when they won the national championship.

Michigan State lost some star power when tailback Kenneth Walker III announced he would forgo the Peach Bowl and declare for the 2022 NFL Draft. Just hours later, Pittsburgh’s star quarterback Kenny Pickett made the same decision.

While we would have loved to see both these teams at full strength, we’re still excited to see how this one plays out. The Panthers’ offense still features Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison at wide receiver, while the Spartans will trot out quarterback Payton Thorne alongside wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed.

To get you ready for kickoff, the staff at Spartan Nation provides an overview of the game, three bold predictions and a final score prediction:

Matt’s 3 Bold Predictions

1. Payton Thorne has a big day

With the absence of Walker, the Spartans will likely have to go to the air early and often against Pittsburgh’s stout defense. Luckily for MSU, one of their top offensive threats returns to the lineup in wide receiver Jalen Nailor. With WR Jayden Reed also set to go in the Peach Bowl, I’m expecting quarterback Payton Thorne to have a big day throwing the football. I’m gonna say the redshirt sophomore throws for over 275 yards and at least three touchdowns against the Panthers.

2. Jalen Nailor scores from 40+ yards out

They don’t call him “Speedy” for no reason. Jalen Nailor hasn’t seen the field in four and a half games, and he has to be chomping at the bit to get back on the field. The redshirt junior is sure to find the endzone at least once, and I think it’s going to come on a big play. At some point in today’s game, Thorne is going to hit Nailor on a deep shot that goes for 40-plus yards and a touchdown.

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3. I’ll take ‘over’ 55.5 total points

The over/under is set at 55.5 points in this matchup. I’ll take the ‘Over’. Even without Kenny Pickett at quarterback, I think WR Jordan Addison and the Panthers’ offense will find some success against Michigan State’s secondary. On the flip side, as I’ve noted above, I think the Spartans are going to be able to score points today as well. I think you’ll see the scoreboard light up fairly often at the Peach Bowl.

Kenny's 3 Bold Predictions

1. Payton Thorne throws for 300 yards and three touchdowns

Payton Thorne has been overshadowed this season because of the attention to Kenneth Walker III, but now it’s time for Thorne to take control of his team and lead them to a bowl victory. Thorne has consistently improved throughout the season, and he has his two favorite weapons, Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor, on the field together again for the first time since the Michigan game. The redshirt sophomore is looking to end this year on a high note and he’ll have a huge game to spark the Spartans offense tonight.

2. Jayden Reed is the best receiver on the field, going for 8 catches and 175 yards

Reed is going to get a lot more attention with Walker’s absence tonight, and he’ll be expected to make some big plays that they might not get out of the run game. I expect Reed to show why he was also undervalued this season, and why he could be the Spartans’ top playmaker if he returns for another season.

3. Mel Tucker shows why he’s worth 95 million dollars.

Mel Tucker and Michigan State made headlines at the end of this season when the Spartans made him the second-highest paid coach in the country, behind only Nick Saban at the time. Now, Tucker is out to prove he’s worth that contract. He’s the right man for the job, Michigan State knew they had to step up and keep him in East Lansing and they delivered. I know some people may downplay bowl games, but this is the first step for Tucker and the Spartans in winning at the national level. A win tonight in a New Year’s Six bowl game for Tucker in his first full season at the helm could be a sign of things to come for the Spartans, and show why he was worth $95 million.

Matt’s overview/Score prediction

I’ve kind of already given away how I think this game will play out via my predictions, so I’ll be brief. Michigan State has weapons on the outside which I believe will be able to allow them to move the ball fairly consistently. I don’t think the Spartans will be all that successful in the run game against this Pitt defense, but Thorne and his wide outs will be enough. I have less confidence in Pittsburgh without Kenny Pickett, but I think they will score enough to keep this game close going into the fourth quarter. Ultimately, I think Mel Tucker and his coaching staff get this one done, and bring an 11-win team back to East Lansing. Prediction: Michigan State 34, Pittsburgh 27

Kenny's overview/Score prediction

Michigan State (10-2), playing in their first New Year’s Six Bowl game since the 2015 season, looks to end 2021 on a high note and keep the momentum going into 2022. The Spartans will be without the best running back in the country, with Kenneth Walker III forgoing his final college game and his one year left of eligibility to enter the 2022 NFL draft. Michigan State still has plenty of fire power remaining on the offense, including receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor. Pittsburgh comes into the game coming off their first 11-win season since 1981 and looking for their first 12-win season since 1976. Pittsburgh had a magical season in 2021, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett who, like Walker, decided to forgo the game for the NFL draft. The Panthers have a formidable backup QB in Nick Patti. Pittsburgh also has this season’s Biletnikoff Award winner in Jordan Addison suiting up for the Panthers tonight. There are a lot of key matchups and both teams are going to get a good look at their rosters without their star player tonight. This is a huge momentum game for both programs going into the 2022 season. Prediction: Michigan State 32, Pittsburgh 28