Michigan State football

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Debunking the ‘Cade McNamara is better than Payton Thorne’ myth

A recent narrative has blossomed in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry about Payton Thorne not being up to Cade McNamara’s level.

It’s the week leading up to the 2022 Michigan State football season which means one thing: we survived an endless barrage of stupid rivalry banter that went in circles for eight months.

Yes, folks, we did it. We are in the clear and now we have another eight weeks of rivalry banter based on every week’s games — including the meaningless non-conference contests.

Payton Thorne throws for 300 yards against Western Michigan? He’s a Heisman candidate. Cade McNamara has four touchdown passes against Colorado State? He’s the best quarterback in the state by a mile. Michigan State beats WMU, Akron, and Washington handily? They’re title contenders. Michigan beats Hawaii, UConn, and Colorado State by a million? They’re going undefeated.

While those seem like wild statements that will lead to stupid debates, they will undoubtedly be had by Michigan and Michigan State fans over the next two months. It’s truly an endless cycle.

There is one debate that has raged on over the past month, or so, as the season has closed in: McNamara or Thorne?

Michigan fans — who have been clamoring for JJ McCarthy to start all offseason (a majority have) — are obviously on the side of their guy. Michigan State fans are taking Thorne.

Both are solid quarterbacks, but one is superior, and it’s fairly clear, in my eyes: Thorne.

Sure, I’m slightly biased here, but I took a step back and looked at the debate from an outsider’s perspective. I looked at the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Davey O’Brien Award and noticed that Thorne was named to each one while Cade was not on any of them. Sure, these are just opinions, but three major awards that focus on the nation’s top players think more of Payton than McNamara.

Thorne and McNamara were both named to the Manning Award watch list, however.

And then I looked at a major media source in ESPN. The oft-criticized “worldwide leader in sports” released its top 100 players for 2022 and two Spartans made the cut. Jayden Reed was No. 61 and Thorne came in at No. 69. You know who wasn’t on the list? Cade McNamara.

Again, these are opinions, so let’s get into the facts (stats).

Thorne was better than McNamara in each of the following categories last year:

  • Touchdown passes (27 to 15)
  • Passing yards (3,232 to 2,576 yards)
  • Yards per attempt (8.3 to 7.9)
  • Adjusted yards per attempt (8.5 to 8.0)
  • Passer efficiency rating (148 to 141.9)
  • QBR (77.7 to 75.4)
  • He also had more rushing yards and rushing touchdowns

McNamara was better than Thorne in these categories in 2021:

  • Completion percentage (64.2 to 60.4)
  • Interceptions (6 to 10)

Which quarterback are you taking there?

OK, still not convinced?

Cade played behind a much better offensive line and had the sixth-lowest sack rate in college football, per footballoutsiders.com. You could argue that ‘sack rate’ is up to the quarterback, but if you watched the games, Cade had all the time in the world to throw while Thorne was often flushed from the pocket. Plus, Thorne has proven to be a better runner so the sack rate differential is telling. Michigan’s offensive line was named the best in college football in 2021. Michigan State’s? Well, it was in the bottom half of the Big Ten.

Michigan had the nation’s fourth-lowest sack rate on passing downs and MSU was 40th and 28th in overall sack rate. The difference in offensive line effectiveness was obvious.

Thorne saw more pressure behind a worse offensive line and still had better passing stats other than accuracy and interceptions.

Still not convinced that Thorne is better?

Fine, I’ll bite. Let’s debunk the narrative that “Kenneth Walker III made Thorne.”

While true that Walker did take plenty of pressure off of Thorne, he also carried Michigan State to a Peach Bowl win over Pitt after a horrid start. And that was without an inkling of a run game. He stepped up in the second half and showed his clutch gene.

Also, couldn’t you make that same argument for McNamara? He had Blake Corum, Hassan Haskins, and Donovan Edwards taking pressure off him with the 15th-best rushing offense in the nation. Michigan State’s rushing offense was only 53rd in college football. Which quarterback benefitted most from an elite run game?

Oh, and Thorne throws a beautiful deep ball while Cade has been inconsistent in that regard.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m campaigning hard for Thorne and I truly believe he’s the best quarterback in the state and top 3-4 in the Big Ten.

Debate me.

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