Two reeling squads seek to end their seasons on a high note in the 10th edition of the Pinstripe Bowl in The Bronx.
- The Game: New Era Pinstripe Bowl
- The Venue: Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, NY
- The Teams: Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. Michigan State Spartans
- The Time/TV: Friday at 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
There’s still a chance for a green football team to impress football fans in the metropolitan area this winter.
New York City, known for turning green with Christmas trees this time of year, welcomes in the Michigan State Spartans to the tenth edition of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl this holiday season. Squaring off with the Spartans are the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, who seek anything but peace on earth this holiday season.
Seasons So Far
Wake Forest (8-4, 4-4 ACC)
Picked to finish second to last in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, the Demon Deacons impressed observers with a 7-1 start to the season. The win tally in that span matched their total from all of last season. Among the key victories were a nationally televised 24-18 Friday night win over in-state rival North Carolina on Sept. 13 and a dominating effort against North Carolina State on November 2. That latter win allowed the Demon Deacons to appear in the College Football Playoff poll for the first time in school history.
The Deacons would fade after placing 19th in the initial CFP ranking. A pair of road losses to Virginia Tech and defending national champion Clemson came by a combined 78 points. Wake did manage to earn an eighth win over Duke, but their regular-season finale was a 39-30 overtime loss at Syracuse.
A win over the Spartans would give Wake Forest their ninth win of the year, which would equal their best tally since their Orange Bowl appearance in 2007. They’re coached by sixth-year man Dave Clawson.
Michigan State (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten)
Is this the end of the line for Mark Dantonio? Probably not, as both he and MSU brass appear to be moving forward with the long-time head coach at the helm. But there’s no denying that he could enter 2020 with one of the hottest seats in college football. Michigan State in 17-19 in Big Ten play over the past four seasons.
The Spartans have become a college football power over the past decade, but the past two years have been plagued by mediocrity. They began this season ranked 18th in the Associated Press’ preseason poll, but a five-game losing streak sent them tumbling. The most brutal of defeats came on November 9, when a 31-10 lead at the start of the fourth quarter became a 37-34 win for Illinois. MSU mustered bowl eligibility with a pair of wins over Rutgers and Maryland.
This is the first all-time meeting between Michigan State and Wake Forest. Michigan State’s last ACC competition came in 2007 when they fell to Boston College in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wake Forest likewise fell in their last game against a Big Ten foe, dropping a 31-24 decision to Indiana in the early stages of the 2015 campaign.
Players to Watch
QB Jamie Newman
Newman is listed as questionable for the game, and his prescience would certainly be missed. The junior’s name appears in the upper half of nearly every major passing category in the ACC rankings. He also ranks third in rushing yards amongst quarterbacks (487) and is overall responsible for 29 total touchdowns this season (third in the conference). Sophomore Sam Hartman is the backup in case Newman can’t go.
DL Carlos Basham Jr.
Basham might be the perfect name for one of the ACC’s top backfield invaders. He was one of three conference defenders with double-digit sacks (10), five of which came in wins over in-state rivals North Carolina and Duke.
QB Brian Lewerke
An era will end on Friday in The Bronx, as the Pinstripe Bowl will mark the final game for Lewerke, a fifth-year senior that has spent the past three seasons as the Spartans’ starter. Lewerke has struggled in the late stages of his career. Over the past seven games, he threw 11 interceptions, including three in the Illinois debacle. But he knows what it’s like to save the best for last. He has a bowl MVP award under his belt from 2017, throwing three touchdowns in a blowout win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
LB/DE Kenny Willekes
It’s hard to make an impact on defense in the Big Ten when you’re trapped with Chase Young. Willekes has done so, ranking in the conference penthouse in several defensive categories. With two sacks on Friday, the fifth-year senior and former walk-on can move into second place in program history.
This will be the sixth meeting under the current ACC vs. Big Ten format. Previous conference ties include the Big 12 and the Big East/AAC.
Big Ten teams have won four of the five prior matchups, including Wisconsin’s 35-3 shellacking of Miami last season. Prior to that, however, each game of the opening quartet was decided by one possession. The first couple of that grouping were overtime thrillers. Penn State topped Boston College 31-30 in 2014 after a missed extra point ended the Eagles’ extra possession. One year later, Duke made history with its first bowl victory in 54 years with a 44-41 win over Indiana. To date, it’s the ACC’s only victory in the game.
Wake Forest has been one of the more inspiring stories of the college football season. Picked to finish near the bottom of the powerful ACC, they’ve instead been able to continue a football revival. The Deacons have won three straight bowl games by a combined 14 points.
However, asking them to beat a Michigan State full of experience, veterans determined to end their college tenures on the right note, could be a bit too much to ask for. The key for Wake, missing several weapons as is, will be getting off to a hot start offensively. If they can make it a shootout, they can catch the Spartans off guard. But if the Spartans, eager to end a lucrative decade on the right note, limit yardage and scoring, it could be a long late afternoon.