Michigan State football

© Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Why I believe Michigan State football can actually make the playoff

A few days ago, I posted a projected College Football Playoff field with Michigan State football in it. I was trolling, but it’s possible.

If there’s one thing I’m great at in life, it’s annually convincing myself that Michigan State football will contend for a Big Ten title and a playoff berth.

After an 11-2 season with a Peach Bowl win, it’s been so easy to talk myself into believing in titles.

I can be realistic and I’ve projected Michigan State to finish anywhere from 7-5 to 10-2 this offseason with a roller-coaster of expectations, but why cap it at 10 wins? The Spartans have gotten better at every position and added depth, so why can’t they improve from 11-2?

They absolutely can.

Hesitation to be confident has crept in all offseason when I catch myself hyping Michigan State up, forgetting the fact that the schedule is a bear. Michigan State has to travel to Washington in non-conference play, it hosts Ohio State and Wisconsin, and it travels to Penn State and Michigan. That’s five games the Spartans could realistically consider toss-ups or losses.

Yet here I am talking the Spartans up on Twitter on a daily basis. I’ve bought into the Mel Tucker hype and I went as far as to (half) troll with a projected playoff field, rounded out by Michigan State football.

Listen, I was half-joking as I saw a Michigan fan post a projected field with the Wolverines at No. 2 earlier in the day, but guess what? I’ve talked myself into believing.

Now I’m going to try and talk you into believing.

Michigan State can legitimately push for the playoff, and here’s why.

Payton Thorne can be that dude

Every playoff contender seems to have a quarterback that leads them there with swagger, confidence, and a strong arm. Enter, Payton Thorne.

The junior quarterback is coming off a record-breaking year and reports from fall camp have him improving in just about every area. He’s more confident, he’s a better leader, and he’s “taking it to another level” according to teammates and coaches.

There aren’t many quarterbacks who are as reliable and steady as Thorne. He doesn’t ever get too high or too low and he’s shown up in clutch situations — the Pitt, Michigan, Miami, and Penn State games last year are prime examples.

Every game is winnable

OK, so I know Ohio State absolutely throttled the Spartans last year, and, yes, I’m worried that might happen again, but less talented Michigan State football teams in the past have beaten more talented Buckeye teams. Heck, a Connor Cook-less team beat a loaded Ohio State team in Columbus in 2015.

Well, this game is in East Lansing this year.

Plus the Spartans could be rolling at 5-0 heading into this game. This could very well be a top-10 matchup in East Lansing and a potential primetime game. Spartan Stadium will be buzzing and crazy things happen in East Lansing when the lights come on. Ohio State knows that it won’t be an easy road win despite winning 56-7 last year. Spartan players have this game circled on the calendar.

If Michigan State beats Ohio State to start 6-0, all it has to do is split the Michigan/Penn State road games and take care of the rest of those games it will be favored in and it’ll likely win the division. The winner of the East is usually the champion of the Big Ten. Michigan State can realistically be that team if it can find a way to beat Ohio State in East Lansing.

This is a massive ‘if.’

The offense is loaded

Michigan State’s offense was great last year. The one weakness (the offensive line) was masked by Thorne’s breakout and an All-American, Doak Walker-winning running back in Kenneth Walker III. The line’s starters are all better this year and reports indicate that it’s getting better, but depth may be a concern.

The offensive line will improve, even if it’s slightly, and the rest of the offense is loaded.

Jayden Reed is one of the best receivers in the nation, not just the Big Ten, Keon Coleman is a rising star at receiver, and Tre Mosley may be the most underrated wideout in the conference. Germie Bernard could be a breakout freshman, Christian Fitzpatrick has potential, Daniel Barker is going to be a star at tight end, Maliq Carr could also be great there, and Tyler Hunt adds depth — and great blocking.

Jarek Broussard is a former Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year at running back and Jalen Berger was a highly sought-after four-star rusher in high school. Both have transferred in this offseason from Colorado and Wisconsin, respectively, and should make up for Walker’s lost production. Jordon Simmons, Elijah Collins, and Harold Joiner add depth.

Thorne has weapons everywhere and he’s going to thrive in this improved offense.

Secondary can’t get any worse

Tucker decided to help out the weakest position group on the team from a year ago, taking over the cornerbacks this offseason. Harlon Barnett and Tucker will get things back on track.

There’s zero chance the secondary will be as ineffective as it was last season and the Spartans finished 11-2 with the nation’s No. 130 passing defense. Imagine how good this team will be with an already top-notch front-seven and a passing defense that’s ranked in the 60-80 range.

Even a top-100 passing defense will take pressure off the rest of the defense and the offense.

Hopes are high with Xavier Henderson, Angelo Grose, Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough, Charles Brantley, Ameer Speed, Marqui Lowery, Jaden Mangham, Dillon Tatum, and Caleb Coley making up the defensive backfield.

Every position group improved

This goes along with the offense being loaded and Tucker hitting the portal hard. Every single position group got better this offseason.

You could argue that the running back room got worse, but I’ll say it got deeper. Michigan State loses Walker but gains a former four-star from Wisconsin and a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year from Colorado. On top of that, there are three more starting-caliber backs. The backfield is so deep that spring breakout candidate Davion Primm moved to defense.

The receiver room is deeper and better. Reed, Coleman, and Mosley might be the best trio outside of Columbus this year in the Big Ten; the tight end room is the best it’s been in years.

Starters on the offensive line are better and the two-deep is very solid. Beyond that, it’s scary, but talent is not lacking up front.

Adding Katin Houser to the quarterback room has already caused waves as Hamp Fay moved to safety. Noah Kim looks like a solid backup to Thorne as well. This room has three very capable passers.

Lastly, the front seven is the best it’s been since 2018 when that unit carried the team to a bowl. And the secondary can’t get any worse, as mentioned above. Guys like Khris Bogle, Jacoby Windmon, Aaron Brule, and Speed have been added to the defense from the portal. Michigan State’s defense will be much better — and deeper.

Every position group improved and it’s going to show.

Will it translate to an 11-1 season and division title? If everyone buys in, it should at least put Michigan State in a position to contend.

Did I talk you into buying tickets to the College Football Playoff this year?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>