MSU football notes: Walker, Pickett still mulling if they'll play in Peach Bowl

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — The final game of the regular season was played a little more than two weeks ago, but Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III has remained busy.

The junior has won his share of awards, being named the Walter Camp player of the year while also bringing home the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back. Walker was at Michigan State’s basketball game on Saturday as the program hosted a handful of key recruits ahead of Wednesday’s early signing day.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III is considering if he will play in the Peach Bowl.

They key question going forward is if Walker will be on the field when No. 10 Michigan State (10-2) takes on No. 12 Pittsburgh (11-2) in the Peach Bowl Dec. 30 in Atlanta.

“I'm uncertain about him,” coach Mel Tucker said on Monday. “I know he's been battling through some things, so we'll just have to continue to monitor it. He’s not the only one. I mean, it's a fluid situation and we’re going to get as many guys prepared and ready to go as we possibly can.”

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Walker seems likely to declare for next spring’s NFL Draft. If projected go in the first two days, he could choose not to play in the bowl game.

Tucker said Monday no players have told him they plan to sit out Michigan State’s first New Year’s Six game since 2015.

“I haven't heard anything from any of the healthy guys yet in terms of they're not gonna play,” Tucker said. “That could change as we go. We’ll have to see about the health of all our guys and things like that.”

Walker ran for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. After leading Michigan State to a win over Penn State in the final game, he said he planned to play in the bowl game.

As Tucker said, that could change and he will be open with all his players.

“We have to go through the practices and see,” Tucker said. “Injuries are going to be a big part of it, just the health of guys. We’re going to get as many guys ready to play as we possibly can. Our guys are very good about communicating with me in terms of what they want to do, how they feel about certain things. As we go through this process, I have a clear picture of who’s going to play, who’s going to be available to play.”

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett – one of four Heisman Trophy finalists – said last week he hasn’t decided if he’ll play in the bowl game.

“As a coach you have to prepare for them to be full strength and all their guys playing until we know anything differently,” Tucker said. “Sometimes we may find out on game day, but that's not going to diminish the excitement and the intensity and the importance of the game, in my opinion. Because when that ball turns over, all that goes out the window. We're keeping score, it's a binary deal, you can get a one or zero. And so it's game on from there.”

Heisman snub put aside

While Walker has won plenty of individual awards, he finished sixth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy and was not one of the finalists invited last weekend to New York.

It was disappointing to Tucker that his star running back wasn’t in the mix, but he said none of it changes what Tucker did for Michigan State.

“A few days ago we had a we had a nice conversation,” Tucker said. “I said, ‘Listen, the awards, the ones you win and ones you don't win, they don't define you as a person or as a player. Just keep that in mind. We appreciate you. You've worked really hard to get what you have and to get where you are today. And just because you did or didn't win an award that doesn't change who you are, it doesn't change what you've done.’

“I personally wanted to see him invited to New York for that, but it didn’t happen. But it really doesn't take away from who he is as a person, who he is as a player.”

Filling staff vacancy

While Tucker is busy closing in on early signing day on Wednesday while getting his team ready for the Peach Bowl, he also has an open position to fill on his coaching staff.

Last week, cornerbacks coach Travares Tillman left to take a job at Georgia Tech, his alma mater. Tucker said he’ll be in no hurry to find the right fit to replace Tillman.

“I'm going to take my time with it,” Tucker said. “I don't have a rush. We have a really good idea of what we want to do and we're going to have flexibility. We’re going to get the best person, the best fit for coaching and also for recruiting.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau