With Payton Thorne entering the transfer portal, could Michigan State football be in the marker for quarterback depth?
With Sunday’s news that starting quarterback Payton Thorne will enter the transfer portal, Michigan State football down to three scholarship quarterbacks on the active roster.
The starter is expected to be either Noah Kim or Katin Houser. Redshirt junior Andrew Schorfhaar and freshman Sam Leavitt will likely compete for a backup role. While the Spartans should be happy with either Houser or Kim as the starter, depth at the position does become a bit of a concern. An injury to either Kim or Houser could leave MSU in a really vulnerable spot.
These depth concerns combined with Mel Tucker’s activity in the 2020 offseason are why it’s perceivable Michigan State will look to add a veteran quarterback from the transfer portal. If you remember, Tucker brought in Anthony Russo to compete with Thorne and others as a grad transfer with limited eligibility remaining. I suspect they’ll do something similar.
The trick for Tucker and his staff is to find somebody that is good, but not too good. They likely want Kim or Houser to win the job, but they also need to fill out the roster with capable players if called upon. So, who are some names to watch for?
I’ve listed five candidates that I could see MSU pursuing in the spring window.
1. Ben Bryant, Cincinnati
I think Ben Bryant might fall into the “too good” category when compared to MSU’s current situation. But with limited options available at this point, he’s worth considering.
Bryant comes with a ton of experience and has only one year of eligibility remaining. He could serve as a capable backup while also not posing a threat to Kim or Houser’s long-term prospects. And if by chance if he does win the job, that should say more about Kim and/or Houser, which you’d want to know sooner than later anyway. Bryant has shown to be serviceable at a solid program like Cincinnati.
The question is whether or not Bryant is comfortable potentially being a backup. He sat behind Desmond Ridder for three seasons at Cincinnati before moving to Eastern Michigan for a season. After a nice year in Ypsilanti, he returned to Cincinnati in 2022 to become the starter. His recent transfer intention, combined with his movement from Cincinnati to EMU then back to Cincinnati would suggest that he’s only interested in starting. But it’s unclear what kind of starting prospects he may be looking at after a solid, but not tremendous 2022 season.
Emory Jones (who is on his third team in three years) just beat out Bryant at Cincinnati. So, if he wants to be a starter with no competition, he may have to dip to the lower levels of Group of Five programs. If not, there are likely a number of Power Five programs that would love to have him as a depth option. MSU should absolutely explore that possibility.
2. Chase Wolf, Wisconsin
It’s a little unclear at this point what Chase Wolf’s status is. After announcing that he would return to Wisconsin after the bowl game in December, it was recently reported that he is no longer with the team. Given that this would be his sixth year of college football, it’s unclear if Wolf is looking to continue his athletic career or not.
Wisconsin is currently going through a regime change with new head coach Luke Fickell. They added a number of new faces to the quarterback room. So, it’s not a surprise to see Wolf depart. If he does decide he wants to keep playing, this is the kind of player that is most realistic for MSU to add.
Wolf has spent his entire career as a backup and has one year of eligibility remaining. His most extended playing time came in the 2022 Guaranteed Rate Bowl against Oklahoma State. Wolf was pretty unremarkable in that win, going 16-for-26 for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
There is very little upside with Wolf, and he wouldn’t be a realistic threat to challenge Kim or Houser. He also proved to be somewhat reliable in a pinch for the Badgers last December.
3. Logan Smothers, Nebraska
Here is another guy that has spent his entire career as a backup. Smothers is from the class of 2020 and played sporadically in 2021 and 2022. With Matt Rhule taking over for Scott Frost, Smothers could be looking for a fresh start. The one deterrent that MSU may see with Smothers is his eligibility. After not playing in 2020, Smothers could have as many as three years of eligibility left. That may not line up with MSU’s vision at the position.
However, as noted, at this point in the offseason, Tucker can’t be as picky as normal if he feels like they need to add someone. Outside of that, there are reasons to think Logan Smothers might be able to play a little bit. A four star recruit out of high school, he possesses dual threat ability at the position. He spent two seasons backing up Adrian Martinez and Casey Thompson. Both are good players.
Similar to Bryant, Smothers would probably inject himself into the competition more than MSU might like. But at the same time, MSU can’t put themselves in a position where they are holding themselves back at the position out of loyalty.
4. Harrison Bailey, UNLV
A big-time recruit out of high school, Bailey actually received his most extended playing time as a true freshman at Tennessee. After losing the job in 2021, Bailey then transferred to UNLV. He appeared in six games for the Rebels but only attempted 58 passes on the season.
At 6-foot-5, Bailey has tremendous size to pair with great arm strength. But after losing out on the starting job at UNLV to Doug Brumfield, it’s fair to wonder if Bailey will ever find his way back to becoming a starter at the Division I level. He’s played in all three seasons in college, so he’d have two years remaining if you assume he takes the extra year from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physically, he fits the description for the type of player Tucker prefers. His timeline lines up with what MSU would be looking for in a depth option at the position. For Bailey, it could be an opportunity to reset expectations for his career and accept a backup role at a power five program. This could be a match for both parties.
5. James Foster, Charlotte
Similar to Harrison Bailey, Foster was a big-time high school recruit as well. He spent his first two seasons at Texas A&M, where he attempted just nine passes. After transferring to Charlotte, he saw more playing time, but sat behind Chris Reynolds for two seasons.
With one year of eligibility remaining, Foster could be the exact kind of stop gap Mel Tucker is looking for. Accuracy has been the biggest problem for Foster, as he’s completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes over his four-year career. This path would be similar to the one with Wolf. There isn’t a lot of upside here, but that could also be what MSU is looking for.
Foster would bring experience and be an “in case of emergency” option for 2023. If there is interest from Michigan State, you’d have to believe Foster would jump at the chance. His age, lack of playing time, and statistics would suggest he will have limited offers. As mentioned, it’s not impossible to see a path to meaningful snaps at MSU given that from day one he’d be no worse than QB4 on the depth chart.
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