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Michigan State football: Expectations for the starting QB in 2023

These are realistic expectations.



Michigan State football
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

If Michigan State football is going to have any success this season, the quarterback position must reach these goals.

Michigan State football is still trying to decide who its starting quarterback will be. What should we expect from the position?

As we anxiously await the start of the season for Michigan State football, there will be no story bigger than the battle for starting quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Noah Kim and redshirt freshman Katin Houser figure to be entrenched in an old-school competition.

Given the fact that neither player has received extensive playing time, it’s hard to project who might have the upper hand since we have almost nothing to base our opinions on. Houser has only been on campus for a year, and Kim played sparingly in mop-up duty last season – often against second and third-team defenses.

While we may not know who will be playing quarterback on Sept. 1, we can look at historical statistics to try and get an idea of what Michigan State will need out of the position.

Coaches will tell you it’s not about the numbers. I buy that to an extent. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that good teams often go as far as their quarterback play will take them. I took a look at the past five seasons of quarterback play in the Big Ten. I’ve highlighted three statistics that I believe separate the “good” quarterbacks from the “average” or “bad”. In other words, if Michigan State’s starter can meet or exceed these thresholds, they should get to a bowl game. At the very least, if things go poorly, but their quarterback meets these goals, it won’t be an offensive problem.

2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio

In a different world where Michigan State is playing for a Big Ten title, this number increases to 3:1 or maybe even 4:1. Generally speaking, though, a 2:1 ratio for a starting quarterback in the Big Ten should be more than enough to be competitive.

In 2022, C.J. Stroud, J.J. McCarthy, Sean Clifford, Taulia Tagovailoa, and Tommy DeVito all maintained this ratio. What else did those teams have in common? They all won seven or more games and were pretty clearly five of the six best teams in the conference. If we extrapolate this further, 2018 Illinois and 2019 Maryland are the only Big Ten teams to win fewer than six games since 2018 with a quarterback maintaining that 2:1 ratio. Interestingly enough, Michigan State has only had one quarterback do it in the past five seasons. Payton Thorne’s record-setting 2021 (27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions) coincides with Michigan State’s best offense during that span.

Looking at total touchdowns or total interceptions on their own isn’t conclusive. Everything is relative. The ratio between the two is extremely important because it represents the reward that comes with risk taking. Interceptions are going to happen. Tipped passes. Miscommunication. Poor throws. That’s all part of the game. But you may be able to live with them if your quarterback is offsetting turnovers with touchdowns at a high rate. Conversely, if you never turn the ball over, you may look great on a stat sheet. But if those possessions coincide with very few touchdowns, what are you really gaining?

There is a balance between the two. Recent history within the league tells us that the 2:1 area is where you can live and be competitive. Ohio State is certainly an outlier. But looking at the rest of the league, the teams in the top half of the conference generally have a quarterback that goes two for one. That ratio often goes in tandem with red zone performance. For Kim or Houser, execution in the red zone should be a top priority given Michigan State’s slim margin for error.

Those stats should be easy enough to track in practices and scrimmages. I’d imagine it’s at the top of the list of evaluation points for Mel Tucker.

7.5 yards per attempt or more

When evaluating quarterback play, it’s important to capture efficiency. Yards per attempt does that by taking your total yards divided by the number of attempts (completions and incompletions) it took to get there. It’s a much better metric than yards per completion because it attempts to combine accuracy and the willingness to throw deep.

For context, Ohio State’s quarterbacks are consistently above 9 yards per attempt. The worst quarterbacks in the conference are usually around 6.0 – and sometimes lower — 7.5 feels like the middle class of the league.

Here is where 7.5 yards per attempt would have ranked within the Big Ten each of the last five years.

  • 2018: 4th
  • 2019: 8th
  • 2020: 4th
  • 2021: 8th
  • 2022: 6th

So, while some years were better than others in the conference, 7.5 is roughly average. Michigan State football should strive for better-than-average play. But for a first-year quarterback, this is a realistic goal. Again, this metric is a weighted look at risk versus reward. Are the yards gained reliant on a lot of attempts? Or does the quarterback have the potential to move the offense with chunk plays?

The ability to strike quickly is essential for a good college football offense. It keeps pressure on the opponent. It keeps you in games. Most importantly, it minimizes the variance that comes with running more plays. Longer drives equate to increased chances of penalties, missed assignments, bad execution, and turnovers.

The other variable that makes this statistic so interesting is the one season of evidence that we do have where things were working. In 2021, Jay Johnson dialed up a ton of deep shots. He used the running game to draw the defense up, eventually taking shots over the top. Their commitment to the running game in years where it hasn’t worked (2020, 2022) leads me to believe this is still the offensive identity they want to have. The willingness – and ability – to throw it deep is crucial within this offense. It got Payton Thorne in trouble a few times as he forced things that weren’t there. I’d imagine Tucker and Johnson are willing to live with some of that, as long as the completions outweigh the turnovers.

It sounds simple, but the quarterback that shows the ability to throw it deep with accuracy and consistency will likely win the job. Unless the offensive philosophy is overhauled, I don’t think the coaching staff is looking for a dink and dunk game manager type player.

Greater than 60 percent completion rate

This is probably the most difficult threshold for Michigan State’s new quarterback to overcome. This statistic can be a little misleading based on your receivers, the offensive play calling, and flow of the game. But I’d argue accuracy is the most important trait for a quarterback. The offense isn’t going to move if the balls thrown by the quarterback aren’t catchable. Accuracy impacts the way other teams choose to defend. It impacts the play-calling. And as the competition gets better, those windows become smaller. The margin for error shrinks. If your quarterback isn’t accurate, it gets exposed.

Since 2018, here are the number of quarterbacks in the Big Ten that have completed over 60 percent of their passes for the season.

  • 2018: 6
  • 2019: 4
  • 2020: 7
  • 2021: 7
  • 2022: 8

As you can see, this isn’t asking for anything spectacular. About half of the league has been able to hit this number. Thorne was able to do it in both of his seasons as a starter (60.4% in 2021 and 62.5% in 2022).

For context, here is how the MSU quarterbacks fared in the years before Thorne.

  • 2020 Rocky Lombardi: 53.5%
  • 2019 Brian Lewerke: 59.6%
  • 2018 Brian Lewerke: 54.3%

Where this becomes tricky for Michigan State football is the inexperience at receiver. If that group struggles to create separation, this target will be nearly impossible to hit.

Completion percentage can lie to you and shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all statistic. For this season though, I think it will be an indication of multiple things. It will tell us whether or not the receivers are getting open. It will show us how well the offensive line can pass-protect. Most importantly, it will show us which quarterback is able to put the ball in catchable locations.

None of these numbers should be looked at individually to draw a conclusion on the quarterback play in East Lansing. Put together though, and we may be able to see some correlation to other areas of the offense. The numbers won’t tell the entire story. We’ll have to watch the game tape to get the entire picture. I’m curious though to see where we stand in mid-October. If MSU has a quarterback that completes more than 60 percent of his passes, while averaging over 7.5 yards per attempt, with a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio, I would guess they’ll have more wins than losses.

We’ll have to wait until Sept. 1 to see if Noah Kim or Katin Houser can start on that journey.


Weekly college football viewing guide: What to watch in Week 4

What should you be watching this weekend?



Michigan State football
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

While you can watch Michigan State vs. Maryland, here’s what else is on the intriguing college football slate in Week 4.

If you’ve got plans this weekend, start working on your fake cough and sick voice. This is a weekend of college football that dreams are made of. We have six Top 25 matchups on tap in addition to a number of other interesting games. This is a weekend that requires more than one TV. If that’s not an option, head to the bar. Savor this weekend. This is what we live for.

Here’s how to plan your weekend.

Friday, Sept. 22

  • Wisconsin at Purdue – 7 p.m. ET on FS1

A rare Big Ten conference game gets the weekend started in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers haven’t been that impressive this season, but neither has Wisconsin. We keep waiting for Wisconsin’s offense to find a rhythm, but it might be time to consider this being who they are. Wisconsin has beaten Purdue sixteen times in a row. Can they end that drought on Friday?

Saturday, Sept. 23

Noon window

  • Florida State at Clemson – 12 p.m. ET on ABC
  • Rutgers at Michigan – 12 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
  • Oklahoma at Cincinnati – 12 p.m. ET on FOX
  • Auburn at Texas A&M – 12 p.m. ET on ESPN

The day gets started with a solid slate of games at noon that is headlined by the potential college football game of the year in the ACC. Florida State travels to Clemson as a short road favorite. In their biggest games of the year to date, these teams could not have looked further apart. Florida State looked awesome in their dismantling of LSU while Clemson fumbled their way to an embarrassing 28-7 loss at Duke. It feels far too easy to say that Florida State rolls here. Clemson – despite their deficiencies – is still a proud program with enough talent to win this game.

Michigan faces its toughest test of the season so far at home against an upstart Rutgers team. I’m skeptical that Rutgers can score enough (at all?) to keep this interesting. At the very least, this should give us an idea if Michigan’s struggles in the running game are a legitimate concern or if they’ve been holding things back.

Cincinnati makes its Big 12 debut at home against Oklahoma. The Sooners have looked great so far this year, but this is a tricky spot on the road against the Bearcats who are coming off an embarrassing home loss to Miami (OH).

Keep an eye on this game in College Station. Last year, Auburn celebrated their win against the Aggies like they had won the SEC. Now, the Aggies get them at home with an offense that looks much improved from a year ago.

Afternoon window

  • Maryland at Michigan State – 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC
  • Colorado at Oregon – 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
  • UCLA at Utah – 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX
  • Ole Miss at Alabama – 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS
  • BYU at Kansas – 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

The afternoon gets going with Maryland visiting East Lansing in the Big Ten opener for both teams. MSU looked like a dead team walking against Washington. For Maryland, this year presents a real opportunity in the Big Ten East. So far, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State haven’t been as advertised. Don’t rule out the Terps as a spoiler in this conference. We’ll learn what is real and not real about them against Michigan State.

The Deion Sanders show hits the road in Eugene against Oregon. It feels like the world is expecting an Oregon route, but the Buffaloes have done nothing but prove the doubters wrong this season. The injury to Travis Hunter sucks for college football. But with Shedeur Sanders, Colorado always has a chance.

The movement in the point spread would indicate that Cam Rising will be back for Utah. The Utes desperately need him. For UCLA, it looks like they are handing the reins to five-star freshman Dante Moore. That is best for them in the long term. This weekend could present some growing pains. Rice-Eccles Stadium is one of the best home-field advantages in the sport.

Is the Alabama dynasty finished? Is Nick Saban’s protégé Lane Kiffin really going to be the one to put the final nail in the coffin? This is a fascinating matchup in the SEC that should answer those questions. It’s foolish to doubt Nick Saban and Alabama, but something just feels off this year.

Don’t forget about Kansas. The Jayhawks are 3-0 and host BYU in their first game in the Big 12. Kansas remains a long shot to win the league. But the Jayhawks have a dynamic quarterback and a high-powered offense. It’s college football. Crazy things can happen.


  • Arkansas at LSU – 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
  • Oregon State at Washington State – 7 p.m. ET on FOX
  • Texas at Baylor – 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
  • Ohio State at Notre Dame – 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC
  • Iowa at Penn State – 7:30 p.m. ET on CBS

If you’re going out on Saturday night, make sure there are TVs wherever you go. Things get started with LSU hosting Arkansas. It feels like people have sort of written off LSU as a national championship contender after their loss. They are still very much alive. Arkansas has a history of playing the Tigers tough in Baton Rouge.

Out west, we have what could be the most underrated game of the day. Oregon State has looked phenomenal early this season. Washington State came onto the radar after beating Wisconsin. This is a tough test for the Beavers in a stadium that while small, still presents a great home-field advantage.

Texas was the talk of college football after upsetting Alabama in week two. But after seeing Alabama last week, do we have to re-evaluate the Longhorns? This game is being overshadowed by the rest of the great games on Saturday. Baylor has really struggled offensively this year. Everyone will have Texas winning easily. Circle this one.

The best game of the weekend is in South Bend. Ohio State and Notre Dame face off for the second year in a row. Regardless of the outcome, seeing Ohio State’s helmets under the lights in Notre Dame Stadium in a top-10 matchup is just beautiful. We’ll find out if Ohio State’s struggles are overblown or legitimately concerning. Notre Dame has the defense and running game to win.

If you’re somebody who loves defense, turn on CBS. Penn State and Iowa get together in one of my personal favorite Big Ten matchups. This game is even more fun because this will be the “white out” game for Penn State. While the Nittany Lion offense has been sluggish, their defense is elite. You know you’re going to get good defense and special teams from Iowa. Cade McNamara doesn’t look healthy to me, and that’s a problem against this defense. Iowa is on shutout alert.

Late night

  • USC at Arizona State – 10:30 p.m. ET on FOX
  • Cal at Washington – 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN

It’s a shame that this glorious day of college football doesn’t give us one appealing matchup in the late-night spot. USC and Washington are heavy favorites against these conference bottom-feeders. Arizona State may be without as many as ten starters with their third-string quarterback going against Caleb Williams. This one could be a bloodbath.

While Washington looked invincible against Michigan State, nobody has been better in this spot than Justin Wilcox. The Bears have shown the ability to make these games ugly with their defense. Can they do enough to hang around and make this worth staying up for? Probably not. But what else are you going to do? Go to bed? Enjoy the day. This one is special.

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Michigan State football: 3 fearless predictions vs. Maryland

Let’s hope the Washington loss was an outlier.



Michigan State football
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State football will host unbeaten Maryland on Saturday afternoon looking to bounce back from the Washington debacle.

What a disaster this season has been thus far for Michigan State football. While the obvious negative storyline involves Mel Tucker, there’s an underlying issue that hasn’t been talked about enough: injuries. It feels like that’s the theme of the program every single year.

Michigan State has been bitten by the injury bug yet again — and twice as hard.

The ailing Spartans, who could be without over a dozen players on Saturday, will host an undefeated Maryland team trying to improve to 4-0 behind the arm of Taulia Tagovailoa. The Spartans need to get after him early and often — something they couldn’t do against Michael Penix Jr.

This game is important for Michigan State if it wants to have a chance at a bowl berth this season.

To celebrate homecoming weekend, here are three of my most fearless predictions for the crucial game.

1. Nathan Carter rushes for 100 yards again

Through two Michigan State football games, Nathan Carter looked like a superstar. He had back-to-back 100-yard games to open his Spartan career and he looked like the clear top player on offense. But the offensive line has done him no favors.

Need proof? Just look at the Washington game. He had no running lanes and was hit in the backfield a ton which was disappointing to see. The offensive line was supposed to be a strength this year.

I think we’ll see the offense design more runs to mask these issues in the trenches. Carter will have more runs designed to utilize his speed and elusiveness around the edge and I think he’s going to take full advantage with another 100-yard performance. This will mark three 100-yard games in his first four outings as a Spartan.

Carter’s final line with be 20 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown.

2. Jordan Hall records 10 tackles

If you’ve read up on the (few) bright spots from Michigan State’s loss to Washington, you’d know that Jordan Hall was one of them. The freshman linebacker looks like a budding star through three games. In fact, he’s rated as the Big Ten’s 10th-best linebacker this year and the nation’s No. 8 linebacker in terms of pass coverage. Not too shabby for a true freshman.

Hall is going to have a big game on Saturday against Maryland.

While he has just nine total tackles this season, he’s only played a small percentage of defensive snaps. We’re going to see a healthy dose of Hall on Saturday afternoon as he surpasses his season total for tackles in one game. He’ll even finish with two tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks.

This could be the start of a special career in East Lansing for Hall.

3. Katin Houser engineers a comeback

Last week was a rough one for Noah Kim. The veteran quarterback struggled mightily against a defense that had been mediocre through the first two weeks of the season against inferior opponents and a lot had to do with the offensive line struggling. I think that continues this week as he will get off to a quick start, but stall out through the end of the first quarter and the second quarter.

After halftime, he’ll take the field as the starter once again, but he’ll turn the ball over on the first drive and then go three-and-out on the second possession. Harlon Barnett will make the call to put Katin Houser in the game.

Down 20-10 in the second quarter, Houser will breathe some new life into the offense, but he, too, will be running for his life thanks to offensive line struggles. Houser will throw a touchdown pass and lead two more scoring drives to put Michigan State up 23-20. I have a feeling Maryland wins this one, but the Houser magic will have us believing again.

Michigan State holds on to win 23-20 and Houser’s solid player opens up the QB1 job again.

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Spartan Shadows staff Week 4 college football picks against the spread

Who ya got?



College football
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s Week 4 in college football and that means it’s time for the weekly Spartan Shadows staff pick ’em. Who are we picking?

Hey, Spartan Shadows fans, Week 3 of college football has come and gone. We had some entertaining games, some surprising upsets, and then some games that just surprisingly upset us (*cough* MSU *cough*). Now that most everyone’s non-conference schedule has wrapped up, it’s time to get into conference play.

This should give us some more entertaining games each week to dive into.

But before we do that, let’s check out the results of the Week 3 college football games.

Week 3 results

Here’s how the picks went last week:

  • No. 14 LSU at Mississippi State — Line: LSU -9.5; Result: LSU cover
  • No. 15 Kansas State at Missouri — Line: Kansas State -5; Result: Missouri cover
  • Minnesota at No. 20 North Carolina — Line: UNC -7.5; Result: North Carolina cover
  • Virginia Tech at Rutgers — Line: Rutgers -6.5; Result: Rutgers cover
  • South Carolina at No. 1 Georgia — Line: Georgia -27.5; Result: South Carolina cover
  • No. 11 Tennessee at Florida — Line: Tennessee -6.5; Result: Florida cover
  • Bowling Green at No. 2 Michigan — Line: Michigan -40.5; Result: Bowling Green cover
  • Syracuse at Purdue — Line: Syracuse -2.5; Result: Syracuse cover
  • Pittsburgh at West Virginia — Line: Pitt -1; Result: West Virginia cover
  • No. 8 Washington at Michigan State — Line: Washington -16.5; Result: Washington cover

For the staff picks recap: I first will have no official comment on our MSU game picks.

As far as the rest of the weekend goes, our fearless leader Connor Muldowney had a strong showing, going 7-3 overall. HopMan and MSUrecruits also went strong at 6-4. Myself and Daily hitting the .500 mark is a good sign as well. In the sports betting world, .500 is good. On the other end of the pick train, we had Max going a rough 2-8 after starting the season out hot and then Anthony and Joey going 3-7. Emmett also went 4-6 to close out our picks.

Anthony and I have a little side competition going between us and it looks like the pressure of the Cane’s Box Bet may be getting to him a bit. Look for him to have a strong week this week to make up for it.

Updated standings after Week 3

  1. HopMan: 18-12
  2. (Tie) Connor and Emmett: 17-13
  3. (Tie) MSUrecruits and Max: 16-14
  4. Chris: 15-15
  5. Daily: 14-16
  6. (Tie) Joey and Anthony: 13-17

Week 4 college football games

Disclaimer: All lines are as of 11:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Sept. 20 from the ESPN app and Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Wisconsin at Purdue — Friday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 (Line: Wisconsin -6)

Hop: Wisconsin
Connor: Purdue
Emmett: Wisconsin
MSUrecruits: Wisconsin
Chris: Wisconsin
Daily: Wisconsin
Joey: Purdue
Anthony: Wisconsin

  • Rutgers at No. 2 Michigan — Saturday at 12 p.m. ET on BTN (Line: Michigan -24)

Hop: Michigan
Connor: Rutgers
Emmett: Michigan
MSUrecruits: Michigan
Max: Rutgers
Chris: Michigan
Daily: Michigan
Joey: Rutgers
Anthony: Rutgers

  • No. 4 Florida State at Clemson — Saturday at 12 p.m. ET on ABC (Line: FSU -2.5)

Hop: Florida State
Connor: Clemson
Emmett: Florida State
MSUrecruits: Florida State
Max: Florida State
Chris: Florida State
Daily: Florida State
Joey: Clemson
Anthony: Florida State

  • No. 19 Colorado at No. 10 Oregon — Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC (Line: Oregon -21)

Hop: Colorado
Connor: Oregon
Emmett: Oregon
MSUrecruits: Oregon
Max: Oregon
Chris: Oregon
Daily: Oregon
Joey: Oregon
Anthony: Colorado

  • No. 22 UCLA at No. 11 Utah — Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX (Line: Utah -4.5)

Connor: Utah
Emmett: UCLA
MSUrecruits: UCLA
Max: Utah
Chris: Utah
Daily: Utah
Joey: UCLA
Anthony: Utah

  • No. 15 Ole Miss at No. 13 Alabama — Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS (Line: Alabama -7)

Hop: Ole Miss
Connor: Bama
Emmett: Bama
MSUrecruits: Ole Miss
Max: Ole Miss
Chris: Ole Miss
Daily: Bama
Joey: Ole Miss
Anthony: Ole Miss

  • No. 13 Oregon State at No. 21 Washington State — Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on FOX (Line: Oregon State -3)

Hop: Oregon State
Connor: Washington State
Emmett: Washington State
MSUrecruits: Oregon State
Max: Oregon State
Chris: Washington State
Daily: Washington State
Joey: Washington State
Anthony: Oregon State

  • No. 6 Ohio State at No. 9 Notre Dame — Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC (Line: OSU -3)

Hop: Ohio State
Connor: Notre Dame
Emmett: Ohio State
MSUrecruits: Notre Dame
Max: Notre Dame
Chris: Ohio State
Daily: Notre Dame
Joey: Ohio State
Anthony: Notre Dame

  • No. 24 Iowa at No. 7 Penn State — Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on CBS (Line: PSU -15)

Hop: Iowa
Connor: Penn State
Emmett: Iowa
MSUrecruits: Iowa
Max: Penn State
Chris: Penn State
Daily: Penn State
Joey: Iowa
Anthony: Penn State

  • Maryland at Michigan State — Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC (Line: Maryland -7.5)

Hop: Maryland
Connor: Michigan State
Emmett: Maryland
MSUrecruits: Maryland
Max: Maryland
Chris: Michigan State
Daily: Maryland
Joey: Michigan State
Anthony: Michigan State

There you have it folks. The picks are in. Looks like the staff is heavily favoring Wisconsin and Florida State so you should probably place bets for Purdue and Clemson accordingly. All joking aside, this is an excellent slate of college football games this week so enjoy it, folks.

Also, please try to come out Saturday to Spartan Stadium if you’re in the area. The players still need all the support they can get. Go Green.

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