College football bowl predictions: Take Pittsburgh, Wisconsin

VSiN’s college football expert offers his selections for two of the games on Thursday’s bowl slate.

Peach Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Michigan State (-2.5, 56)

You certainly can understand why players opt out of bowl games to focus on the NFL. As a fan, it is a bummer, but these kids have to do what is best for themselves and avoid the risk of injury. Two huge players did just that for the Peach Bowl in Pitt QB Kenny Pickett and Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III.

Pickett was reportedly on the fence until OC Mark Whipple went to Nebraska. Walker never seemed to have any interest in playing. It takes away from what was a fascinating game, chock full of intrigue, with Pitt HC Pat Narduzzi against his former employer and Michigan State HC Mel Tucker fresh off of that $95 million contract extension.

These are still two talented teams, just teams without their biggest weapons. Pitt will go with Nick Patti at QB. He completed 12 of 14 passes for 140 yards during the regular season and is 40 of 62 for 458 yards with three touchdowns and a pick in his Pitt tenure. Pitt already added Kedon Slovis in the transfer portal and you wonder if Patti will struggle knowing what’s at stake for next season.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett decided not to play in the Peach Bowl.

We may end up seeing more on the ground from the Panthers, who had 493 rushing attempts against 521 passes. They did run the ball a lot, but it wasn’t anywhere nearly as effective as the aerial attack with just 4.1 yards per carry. Michigan State had a top-15 run defense by yards per carry and allowed only nine rushing TDs.

Walker led the Spartans with 6.2 yards per carry and had 1,636 of the team’s 2,227 rushing yards. Backup Jordan Simmons rushed for 4.7 yards per carry, but only on 54 attempts. QB Payton Thorne had a nice season with 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions and he’ll exceed 3,000 yards for the season here.

While Pitt’s offense got all the attention with Pickett at the helm, the defense ranked 23rd in yards per play allowed. Michigan State’s defense was only 72nd in that department. With Pickett gone, Michigan State deserves to be the favorite, but the Panthers defense is mostly intact and Patti has had a lot of bowl practices and first-team reps to get ready. Look for Pitt +3, which might be available closer to kickoff.

Pick: Pittsburgh, +2.5.

Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Wisconsin (-7, 42.5)

A game with a big spread and a low total, which usually pushes me toward the underdog, but that is not the case here.

Arizona State will be missing running back Rachaad White, who had 1,006 yards, 5.5 yards per carry and 15 touchdowns. We’ll never really know if White would have success against an elite Wisconsin run defense, but the task at hand is a lot harder without him. Backup DeaMonte Trayanum entered the transfer portal as well.

That puts it on the shoulders of Jayden Daniels, who seems to have regressed since his freshman year. Daniels completed 66.4 percent of his passes, but had a 10/9 TD/INT ratio during the regular season. Ever since he lost guys like Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby, he hasn’t been able to create nearly as many explosive plays.

The Pac-12 doesn’t have a lot of physical teams. Arizona State is going to have a tough time matching up with Wisconsin’s physicality in the trenches. Shop for the Badgers -6.5 if you can find it.

Pick: Wisconsin, -7.