By: Patrick Damp

ATLANTA (KDKA) – The Panthers have a date with the Michigan State Spartans on December 30 in Atlanta.

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With a kick-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m., No. 12 Pitt and No. 10 Michigan State will play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This will be Pitt’s first appearance in a bowl game since 2019 when they beat Eastern Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl 30-34.

Meanwhile, the Spartans played in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2019, beating Wake Forest 27-21.

Michigan State found themselves behind Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten East Division, finishing with a 10-2 overall record and a 7-2 conference record.

So, how did these two teams find themselves in Peach Bowl in 2021?

ACC Champions

For the first time in program history, the Pitt Panthers are the ACC champions.

The Panthers won the ACC Coastal Division, compiling an 8-1 in conference record, and earning themselves a berth in the ACC Championship, where they took on Wake Forest.

Pitt came out with a purpose in the ACC Championship game, winning 45-21 and holding one of college football’s most prolific offenses to just 21 points, all of which were scored in the first quarter.

While the Pitt offense was led by Kenny Pickett, now the leader in most quarterback records in program history, the defense stepped up in the ACC Championship, picking off Wake Forest four times.

Powered By Pickett

The 2021 season began with a shot of hope for Pitt.

Due to the pandemic, Kenny Pickett was eligible to return to the team as quarterback and he chose to do so.

The choice was rewarded as Pickett tossed 42 touchdowns, 4,319 yards, and only seven interceptions in 13 games.

While he could be a potential Heisman finalist, the Panthers’ quarterback became one of the best in program history.

During the ACC Championship game, Pickett threw his 80th touchdown in his career with the Panthers, passing Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

He also was named both the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the year.

Pickett now holds the program records for single-season touchdowns, most passing yards in a single season, and career completions.

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As Pickett went, so did the Panthers.

The Beast East

Michigan State found itself in what one could argue is one of the tougher divisions in football, the Big Ten East.

Surrounded by Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Maryland, the Spartans finished third with a record of 10-2 and 7-2 in the conference.

Despite all of that, Michigan State began the season hot, rattling off eight straight wins, including a 37-33 victory over their in-state rivals, the Michigan Wolverines.

The Spartans would then trade wins and losses over their final four games of the year, including a drubbing by Ohio State, 56-7.

Run, Don’t Walker

A huge part of Michigan State’s offense was running back Kenneth Walker III.

The junior transfer from Wake Forest saw his best season to date, scoring 18 rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown, and an average of 6.2 yards per attempt over 12 games.

He ranked second in the nation for both rushing yards with 1,636 and rushing yards per game with 136.3.

Walker wasn’t just a threat on the ground.

While he only scored one receiving touchdown, he still made 13 receptions for an average of 6.8 yards per catch.

Spartans vs. Panthers

This will just be the seventh meeting between the two programs, with Michigan State having a wide lead in the series, compiling a 6-0-1 record.

Most recently, the teams met in 2007 in East Lansing with the Spartans winning 17-13.

By The Numbers

Offense:
Pitt: The Panthers ranked fifth in the nation in total offense, averaging 502.9 yards per game, third in scoring with an average of 43 points per game, and sixth in passing offense with 350.2 yards per game.

Michigan State: The Spartans ranked 41st in total offense with an average of 430.7 yards per game, tied for 39th in scoring with an average of 31.9 points per game, and 56th in passing offense 245.3 yards per game.

Defense:
Pitt: The Panthers were 40th in total defense, surrendering 5.10 yards per play, an average of 349.2 yards per game, but find themselves second in sacks per game with 3.92 and fifth in tackles for loss per game with 7.7.

Michigan State: The Spartans’ defense was not ranked in the top 100 defenses in college football, giving up 457.1 yards per game,  but were 12th in the FBS in sacks with 3.17 per game. They also have not allowed a single player to rush for more than 100 yards in a game this season.

Where To Watch

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The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will be broadcast on December 30 on ESPN and on the radio at 93.7 The Fan, with kick-off at 7:00 p.m.