Michigan State vs. Wake Forest: Pinstripe Bowl preview and picks against the spread

Michigan State (6-6) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)

Location: New York City | When: Dec. 27 (3:20 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Michigan State -3.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Michigan State: Michigan State had a second straight disappointing season and needed wins over Rutgers and Maryland in its final two regular season games just to get to six wins. The Spartans started the season 4-1 but endured a miserable five-game losing streak and were outscored 144-27 by Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan in the process. MSU also blew a 28-3 lead in a 37-34 loss to Illinois. 

Wake Forest: Wake Forest was the second-best team in the ACC behind Clemson for much of the season. The Demon Deacons opened the season by going 7-1, only to lose three of four down the stretch. Wake Forest was besieged by injuries late in the year, including to star receiver Sage Surratt. Starting QB Jamie Newman was also hurt in the regular season finale against Syracuse, but he is expected to return for the Pinstripe Bowl. 

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

The Pinstripe Bowl is the preeminent bowl game played at a baseball stadium in a city that doesn’t care about college football. It will probably also be very cold, which is always an added dimension to a bowl game. The cold weather presumably favors Michigan State and could affect the fast-paced offense Wake Forest generally runs — especially if it’s windy. Wake likes to go to the air and ranks No. 18 in the country in passing offense, averaging just under 300 yards per game. 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Michigan State DT Raequan Williams: While Kenny Willekes gets a lot of the praise on Michigan State’s defensive line, Raequan Williams has been a constant presence in the middle for the Spartans for four years. Williams has started ever since his redshirt freshman season and has earned all-Big Ten honors the last two seasons. For his career, Williams has 150 tackles, 28,5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. 

Wake Forest WR Kendall Hinton: If Surratt is sidelined, Kendall Hinton becomes the go-to target for Jamie Newman. Hinton’s path to becoming a dependable wide receiver has been a circuitous one. Hinton began his career as a quarterback and made multiple starts, including twice as a true freshman. Hinton also endured a season-ending knee injury and a suspension before switching to receiver. He caught only six passes in 2018, but enters the bowl game — his final game in a Wake uniform — with a team-leading 70 receptions for 953 yards and three touchdowns. 

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio leads his team on to the field to face Rutgers in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Piscataway, N.J. Michigan State won 27-0. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Michigan State EDGE Kenny Willekes: Very little has come easily for Willekes, the recipient of the Burlsworth Trophy as the best former walk-on in college football. But the high-energy rusher always seems to make his presence felt, despite lacking ideal athleticism or length. He has nine sacks this season, coming back from a broken tibia suffered one year ago, and has 24.5 over the past three seasons. Willekes might not test great, but he should be part of a rotation and bring energy and effort to an NFL defense. He could be a third- or fourth-round pick, we believe.

- Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Michigan State: Michigan State is looking to avoid what would be just the third losing season during the 13-year tenure of Mark Dantonio. The Spartans went 6-7 in 2009, his third season, and had a surprising dip to 3-9 in 2016 on the heels of a 36-5 run from 2013-2015. Dantonio’s future has been the source of speculation in recent months, but it looks like Dantonio will be given the chance to dig out of consecutive seasons that were massively disappointing. A win here would at least give the program some positive feelings heading into the offseason. 

Wake Forest: A win in the Pinstripe Bowl would give Wake Forest four consecutive bowl victories under Dave Clawson. The Deacons beat Temple in the Military Bowl in 2016, beat Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl in 2017 and beat Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl in 2018. A win would also get Wake to the nine-win mark for the first time since 2007 and just the third time in program history.

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Wake Forest +4

Sam Cooper: Wake Forest +4

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Michigan State -4

Pete Thamel: Wake Forest +4

Dan Wetzel: Wake Forest +4

Sean Sullivan: Michigan State -4