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Are Michigan State football fans being too dismissive of Payton Thorne?

It’s a fair question to ask.

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Michigan State football
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Payton Thorne hit the transfer portal on the final day to enter but Michigan State football fans haven’t given it much attention.

When it became abundantly clear last season that Michigan State football wouldn’t be competing for anything meaningful, fans started asking the question, “Is it time for a new QB?”

Well, now those Michigan State fans got their wish.

Payton Thorne recently entered the transfer portal and is already being linked to Auburn.

Much like the rest of the world, lots of sports fans like to pretend that 2020 never happened. For Michigan State, the roster was severely depleted after the departure of Mark Dantonio and it was Mel Tucker’s first year in the program. Thorne split quarterback duties with Rocky Lombardi that year and given the state of things, let’s pretend like that season vanished (besides the Michigan game of course).

This leaves 2021 and 2022 to evaluate Thorne’s production.

In 2021 we all know that the success of Michigan State’s team rested largely on the legs of Kenneth Walker III. However, it also rested in part on the arm of Thorne. Over the years, Michigan State has sent multiple quarterbacks to the NFL. We’ve had a two-time Big Ten champ in Connor Cook. Yet none of those guys threw as many touchdown passes as Thorne in a season. It wasn’t just the touchdowns for Thorne, though. He also had the third-most passing yards in the program’s history that same season. As generational as Walker was, we can’t discredit what Thorne accomplished himself.

Perhaps the biggest moment for Thorne came at the season’s conclusion in a New Year’s Six bowl vs. Pitt. Thorne didn’t have Walker by his side. It was an opportunity for him to show that he could lead the team to victory in a big game with his arm. The quarterback had to throw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Spartans to victory.

Then came 2022. Heading into last season, Michigan State football fans weren’t sure what to expect given the departure of Walker. Thorne showed just enough juice in 2021 to make fans feel like he could continue to lead the program in a successful direction with receivers like Jayden Reed and Keon Coleman by his side. Unfortunately for Thorne, 2022 went off the rails almost immediately. He sustained a foot injury in the season opener vs. Western Michigan and never quite looked right again.

To make matters worse, it wasn’t just Thorne that was hurt. Reed sustained a back injury that caused him to miss time and the Michigan State offensive line shuffled more than cupid. Continuity in the offense never really transpired.

Throughout the season there were two primary criticisms of Thorne:

  1. He consistently underthrew balls: This was likely primarily due to not being able to fully plant his feet as needed to chuck it deep.
  2. He made too many poor reads: This was likely a combination of having limited mobility behind a below-average pass-blocking line and overcompensating to prove he was still the guy.

It’s possible the staff’s choice to continue trotting Thorne onto the field to play through his injury was the worst thing for him. We can’t help but wonder if the season would’ve played out a little differently if Thorne had been given a couple of weeks to heal up.

By the time the season came to a close, Michigan State fans had grown tired of watching Thorne struggle week after week. It didn’t help matters when Noah Kim would briefly come in and throw a dart for a touchdown.

Heading into this season, fans were ready for a new signal-caller. Kim and Katin Houser represent hope. They represent the future. They represent upside and unknown ceilings. They both possess skillsets that make them different types of players from Thorne. Fans are ready to see what they have and watch them beyond just this season.

Fans have every reason to be excited about the future of the quarterback position in East Lansing. However, it’s fair to ask if the fanbase has been a little too dismissive of what Thorne accomplished in 2021 due to the frustration of 2022. The 2021 highlight reel shows some big-time throws in big-time games and adverse environments. That’s exactly what you’d want to see from your QB1.

Thorne will go on to start at another school. It’s likely his play next season is closer to 2021 than it was to 2022. MSU fans can be grateful for what he’s done while simultaneously being ready for the future.

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