Snow will hopefully be in the forecast once again for this year’s Pinstripe Bowl between the Michigan State Spartans of the Big Ten and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons of the ACC. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:20 EST on Friday, December 27 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The game will be televised on ESPN.
After opening as a 3.5-point favorite, Michigan State is now a 5-point favorite over Wake Forest. The over/under for the Pinstripe Bowl is set at 49.5 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this year’s college football bowl game odds.
Michigan State averted disaster this season, nearly missing a bowl game for the second time in the last four years. The Spartans started the year 4-1 but struggled against the gauntlet that is the Big Ten East Division. MSU came up short against Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan, with a surprising loss against Illinois thrown in for good measure.
After losing five in a row, Michigan State needed wins in their final two games to become bowl eligible. They succeeded in doing so by the skin of their teeth, beating Maryland 19-16 in their regular-season finale to get to 6-6. Despite the close call, Mark Dantonio has now taken the Spartans to a bowl game 12 times in the last 13 years. Michigan State has also played well in bowl games in recent years, winning five of their last seven.
As for Wake Forest, they are going to a bowl game for the fourth straight year, doing so for the first time in program history. The Demon Deacons got off to a dream start in 2019, going 5-0 and climbing into the top-25. But after starting the year 7-1 and climbing as high as no. 19 in the polls, Wake lost three of their last four games, ultimately finishing a modest 4-4 in ACC play and 8-4 overall.
Despite the disappointing November, the Demon Deacons will be thrilled about going to a bowl for the fourth straight year. Dave Clawson has done a phenomenal job of turning Wake Forest into one of the most consistent programs in the ACC. Not only are the Deacons going to their fourth straight bowl, but they are 3-0 in the postseason under Clawson.
It’s hard to lean toward Michigan State as a favorite in this game considering the up and down nature of their season. Of course, Wake Forest also floundered down the stretch so they’re not that all that reliable either. In the end, the cold and snow usually associated with the Pinstripe Bowl will probably lead to a low-scoring game, which pushes me toward the underdog Demon Deacons to at least beat the spread.
The one thing I feel safe in saying about Michigan State is that their defense is outstanding at stopping the run. Wake Forest doesn’t have elite athletes, so they won’t overwhelm the Spartans the way a few Big Ten teams were able to do this year. The Demon Deacons also averaged just under four yards per carry on the ground this season, so their rushing attack isn’t anything special in the first place. However, Wake will remain committed to the run. They also use a delayed handoff, which does test the discipline of opposing defenses and can sometimes lead to explosive plays.
Meanwhile, I’m a big fan of Wake quarterback Jamie Newman. He could be on the NFL’s radar at this time next year after throwing 23 touchdown passes and averaging better than eight yards per pass this year. Even if the weather is a factor, he has the arm strength to cut through the wind. For what it’s worth, Newman was knocked out of Wake’s season finale. But backup Sam Hartman was the starter for most of 2018, so the Demon Deacons will be in good hands either way.
On the other side of the ball, I’m always reluctant to put my faith in the Michigan State offense. Brian Lewerke had a rather disappointing season for a senior in his third year as the starter. He threw a career-high 12 interceptions and only had a modest 16 touchdown passes. With the Spartans struggling to establish a consistent ground attack for most of the season, they needed more from Lewerke, who was rarely able to deliver.
Admittedly, the Wake Forest defense isn’t the most reliable either. Things got ugly for the Demon Deacons late in the year, giving up 38.5 points per game over their final four games. The Wake defense was particularly vulnerable against teams with good rushing attacks. However, that’s less of a concern against Michigan State, who averaged just 123 rushing yards per game and got a mere nine rushing touchdowns from their running backs this year.
To be honest, I’m not sure what to expect from this game. Both teams have clear flaws that could hold them back. The weather in New York this time of year is also the ultimate wild card, as is usually the case in the Pinstripe Bowl. In the end, taking the underdog and the points feels like the safer choice, so I’ll take my chances with Wake Forest keeping their perfect bowl record under Clawson intact.