Payton Thorne

© Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

Payton Thorne needs to be near-perfect to beat Maryland

Payton Thorne has to be close to perfect if Michigan State is going to go to Maryland and steal a win.

Michigan State and Maryland are both coming off losses. One was demoralizing and one was encouraging (if you can even call a loss encouraging).

Payton Thorne played one of his worst games as a Spartan, passing for just 132 yards and two interceptions on 17-of-24 completions. He had a season-low 5.5 yards per attempt which isn’t going to cut it for the upcoming gauntlet of games.

Although he’s been more accurate this season, on paper, than he has before with a 65 percent completion rate, he’s making poor decisions and freshman mistakes.

That can’t happen on Saturday at Maryland.

We’ve seen Thorne play well and keep Michigan State in a game this season (Washington) but we’ve also seen him as a complete non-factor (Minnesota). He’s been so-so as well (Akron and WMU) but the Spartans need him to be great against the Terrapins on Saturday.

It might be your typical drag-it-out Big Ten game if there’s a lot of rain in the forecast but if it remains dry enough to throw the ball, Thorne needs to have his best game of the year. He may need to have one of his best games as a Spartan.

We know Taulia Tagovailoa — if healthy — is going to get his yards. Scottie Hazelton hasn’t exactly instilled confidence after his post-practice media session this week so don’t expect the secondary to suddenly snap into shape. The Spartans are going to give up yards through the air and if they can hold Maryland to a couple of field goals instead of touchdowns, that’ll be huge for the offense.

Thorne needs to step up and out-duel Tagovailoa. That’s a tall task, but Thorne has shown before that he can play at a high level and put the offense on his back. Jay Johnson needs to play on the strengths of the offense (passing game) and let Thorne throw it deep.

Maryland’s passing defense (260 passing yards per game allowed) is just as bad as the Spartans’ (265 yards per game), believe it or not.

We’re going to need to see Thorne taking advantage of that lackluster defensive backfield and the mismatches with Jayden Reed and Keon Coleman. Utilize those tight ends and even the running backs leaking out of the backfield as safety valves. He has to make plays with his legs, too. Extend plays, go through progressions, and avoid turnovers.

If Thorne can have his best game of the year, completing around 60-65 percent of his throws for 300 yards and a few touchdowns with no turnovers, Michigan State will beat Maryland.

Michigan State needs a near-perfect performance from him on Saturday evening.

Michigan State football

© Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

How can Michigan State football beat Maryland?

Michigan State football is the underdog for a third straight week, but how can the Spartans end the skid at Maryland?

If you wish you could erase the last two weeks of Michigan State football from your memory, you’re not alone. The Spartans have been downright awful since heading to Seattle in Week 3.

For the third straight game, Michigan State is an underdog and it just feels like that’s going to lead to yet another unbearable loss. No, I’m not out on Mel Tucker or the future of this program, but this season just feels unsalvageable at this point. Clearly I’m an eternal pessimist.

But I can be optimistic every now and then and while the Spartans look lost, they face a prime matchup with Maryland on Saturday that could correct the course of the season.

Maryland is coming off a close loss at Michigan in which it nearly pulled off an upset while Michigan State football is fresh off a 34-7 beating at the hands of Minnesota at home. The two teams seem to be trending in opposite directions.

Yet I’m not ready to say Michigan State has ‘no chance’ on Saturday in College Park.

The Spartans have the pieces to beat Maryland on the road in Week 5, and here’s what needs to happen in order for that to become a reality.

1. Payton Thorne has to rebound

I’ll say something controversial here: it’s the offense, not the defense, that holds the key to victory on Saturday. If Michigan State’s offense can keep up with Maryland, I like its chances. We know Maryland is going to score and move the ball, but the offense needs to prove it can do the same.

With that said, Payton Thorne needs to rebound after a horrid Week 4 performance.

Two picks, no touchdowns, and under 150 yards. That’s not a stat line that’s going to win you any games in the Big Ten — unless you’re Iowa. Thorne needs to figure things out and turn it around on Saturday with his best game of the season. It’s time he has a short-term memory and plays as well as we know he can.

This is the perfect defense to get back on track against.

2. Win the turnover battle

In the first two games, Michigan State dominated the turnover battle. Sure, Thorne threw some questionable picks, but they never really killed the Spartans. They found a way to get the ball back via the turnover and if they can force some key fumbles or pick off Taulia Tagovailoa a time or two, the Spartans will be in good shape.

Winning the turnover battle is what this defense has to rely on since it hasn’t forced many punts this year.

3. Rush for at least 150 yards

Through the first two weeks, Michigan State averaged over 220 yards per game on the ground. Over the past two weeks, Michigan State has had 80 total rushing yards. That’s quite the contrast of rushing success.

Maryland doesn’t have a very good run defense (as we saw last week) and I think the Spartans need to assert dominance in the trenches and establish a run game. If Michigan State’s offense wants to prove effectiveness, it needs to establish the run in order to set up the pass. Rush for at least 150 yards and a ton of pressure will. be taken off Thorne’s shoulders and MSU will reap the benefits.

4. Receive the ball to start the game

Kicking off to start the game when you know your defense is an absolute liability to surrender a quick 75-yard drive is foolish. Michigan State needs to opt to receive the ball to start the game, assuming it wins the toss.

No more trailing 7-0 before the offense even gets the ball. That’s why this team has been pressing so much; it’s been playing from behind for 99 percent of the past two weeks. The one percent has been the time during those first drives.

Mel Tucker needs to hope to win the toss and receive the ball. Get an early lead and see how much confidence it builds in the team — you’d be surprised.

5. Blitz

Please. I’m actually begging at this point. I feel like it’s a lost cause to beg for the abandonment of the 4-2-5 scheme, but at least give me some blitzes. Get pressure on Taulia Tagovailoa so he doesn’t sit back there and pick apart the defense. Or at least make him decide where to go with the ball within a second of the snap. Getting him uncomfortable will be so important because that’s when he makes mistakes.

Scottie Hazelton, if you do one thing before you leave East Lansing, let it be this.

I could name about 100 more things that Michigan State football must do in order to beat Maryland, but if the Spartans can drill these five things, they’ll come away with a big road win.

Michigan State football

© Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State football: No, it’s not time for Noah Kim

Michigan State football fans love a good backup quarterback but it’s not time to move on from Payton Thorne for Noah Kim.

Every fan of a struggling football team loves the backup quarterback. That’s not different with Michigan State football fans this season as the Spartans have crawled to a 2-2 start.

To make matters worse, Payton Thorne hasn’t exactly been playing his best football.

The junior quarterback has seven touchdown passes through four games but he also has six interceptions. He threw two picks in a lopsided loss to Minnesota and he also fumbled the ball in the red zone when Michigan State had a chance to get back into the game. This type of play and turnover issue doesn’t exactly instill confidence in fans.

So when Noah Kim came in the game, staring up at a 34-0 deficit in the fourth quarter before engineering a touchdown drive in the final minute, jumping on the bandwagon was easy for some.

Kim looked great in the final minutes of the loss and his 70 yards on 6-of-7 completions with a beautiful touchdown throw to Germie Bernard but there shouldn’t be calls for a change — yet.

It’s easy to throw blame on a quarterback during a rough stretch especially when he has six interceptions through four games, but he has been far from the problem for Michigan State football.

Does Kim change the outcome of the Minnesota game? Absolutely not. Starting him wouldn’t have changed the fact that the defense gave up seven quick points and the run game was non-existent behind that offensive line and mediocre play-calling. Michigan State still loses that game.

Does Kim change the outcome of the Washington game? I would argue that it would have been even more lopsided because Thorne looked really good outside of a couple of mistakes. He kept Michigan State alive against the Huskies and wasn’t intimidated by the environment. The defense would have still let both quarterbacks down.

Before I get thrown under the bus for being a Thorne apologist in the past, I do want to say that I want the best quarterback to start. If Kim proves himself to be the better player, he deserves to be QB1. But there’s a reason Mel Tucker continues to back Thorne and says he’s not worried about him.

And you have to believe him.

Why? If you look at the games, Thorne is pressing way too much. He’s playing from behind immediately as the defense has given up long touchdown drives over the past two games and it’s already 7-0 before he can take a sip of water on the sideline. Thorne comes in and his play-calling and offensive line do him no favors. Jay Johnson dials up a run up the middle for no gain or one yard on first down and it’s already second-and-long. A potential incompletion or another run play makes it third-and-long and the drive is already dead.

Pressure builds on any quarterback when he’s down 14-0 when he’s only had one chance on offense. The room for error disappears. One mistake puts the game out of reach. That’s not on him, that’s on the coaching staff and the defense for setting him up for failure.

Are his interceptions unacceptable? Yes, because they’re all the result of poor decisions and trying to do too much. Every pick he’s thrown this year would have been avoided last year. He’s trying to do too much.

It’s easy for a backup quarterback to come in and look great against second and third-string defenders while playing with absolutely nothing to lose.

Thorne needs to be better but so do his coaches, so does his offensive line, so do his running backs, and so does the defense.

It’s OK to expect more from Thorne and potentially believe that Kim is going to be right on his heels if he’s not performing, but right now, he’s QB1 and he should be. That could all change if he fails to progress in the coming weeks assuming the defense comes alive.

Payton Thorne

© Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State football: 5 burning questions ahead of Minnesota matchup

Michigan State football hosts an undefeated Minnesota team on Saturday afternoon and here are the questions we’ll all be asking.

Like every other Michigan State football fan walking this earth right now, I have plenty of questions following the Spartans’ deflating loss to Washington.

I’ve been at a loss all week long when trying to come up with answers for what happened on Saturday. Was it just a bad matchup? Did Michael Penix Jr. just have the game of his life? Was it because Big Ten teams are awful on the West Coast? The answer to all three of those is an emphatic “yes” but I still have more questions.

And I’m guessing you do, too.

These are the questions I want answered most on Saturday as the Spartans face Minnesota.

1. What adjustments will the defense make?

Probably the most burning of all burning questions after last Saturday’s debacle. Will the defense figure it out and make the necessary adjustments? History under Mel Tucker tells us that the answer to that question is yes, but what adjustments will be made? I’m not entirely sure.

Tucker did say that he didn’t believe it was a schematic issue and that personnel changes would be made. So does that mean Michigan State is running with the 4-2-5 again? More than likely. Will they play some press coverage and force Tanner Morgan to beat them with his arm? I sure hope so.

Can’t wait to see what these personnel changes entail.

2. Will Payton Thorne build on his strong outing vs. Washington?

Momentum is a big thing in college athletics. Players can have breakout years thanks to one game giving them all the confidence they need or they can let one bad game spiral. Fortunately, Payton Thorne didn’t let two poor showings become three to start the season.

Thorne actually got back on track against Washington, throwing for over 320 yards and three touchdowns and this was all without Jayden Reed. Oh yeah, and his offensive line didn’t show up.

Is he going to build on this strong game or will he struggle for the third time this year?

3. Can the offensive line block anyone? 

OK, this may be a little harsh, but after watching the Washington game, I’m genuinely curious.

Can this offensive line do what it did in the first two weeks and manhandle opponents? It felt like we got two steps forward in Weeks 1 and 2 and then 10 steps back in Week 3. Disappointing doesn’t even begin to cover how the Washington game felt in the trenches.

Communication issues and missed assignments plagued Michigan State football against the Huskies and it led to zero run game and Thorne running for his life. Can these guys hold their own against Minnesota’s unproven front?

4. Will the run game get back on track?

Piggybacking off the last question, can we get the run game back on track against Minnesota?

The Gophers do have a solid run defense, allowing just under 70 yards per game, but they have also only played three cupcake opponents. Getting Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard back on track will be key.

I’m also curious to see if the staff still trusts Broussard after that forgettable performance last week. My guy says yes, but his showing against Washington was rough.

Michigan State’s offense thrives when the run game is doing well and it wasn’t able to do anything last week with the line struggling.

5. Is Jayden Reed going to be healthy?

This seems like a waste of a question initially, but it’s actually so important for the success of this team.

If Jayden Reed doesn’t play, Michigan State’s offense loses a weapon and becomes that much less effective. With Reed, the Gophers’ defense has another elite target to worry about and that’s only going to help open things up for Thorne and this offense.

We haven’t heard much on the injury front with Reed, but due to the fact that he didn’t even make the trip to Washington last week, you have to believe it’s not just a tiny cut on his back.

Hopefully Reed returns to full strength on Saturday.

Payton Thorne

© Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Good news: Payton Thorne got his mojo back vs. Washington

Payton Thorne was able to get some of his mojo back despite it being in a losing effort against Washington in Week 3.

I might get grilled for saying this, but some good did come from Michigan State’s loss to Washington last Saturday.

What could that have possibly been?

Well, Payton Thorne got his mojo back.

The junior quarterback had struggled through the first two weeks of the season and fans were starting to worry whether he had regressed or was just in a slump. He was missing his targets high and throwing off his back foot way too much. It seemed like he and anyone not named Jayden Reed or Tre Mosley were not on the same page; they weren’t even in the same book.

But on Saturday, he looked like the old Payton Thorne again.

We got the old version of the talented quarterback back. Sure, Michigan State lost as the defense wasn’t able to stop Michael Penix Jr. but Thorne looked great.

Playing behind an offensive line that felt like it wasn’t blocking anyone, Thorne was left running for his life all night long. On top of that, he was missing his favorite target in Jayden Reed who didn’t travel to Seattle due to an injury. The odds were stacked against Thorne to get back on track versus Washington.

It didn’t matter.

In his toughest test since 2021, Thorne went out, slung the ball around to a few different targets, got back on the same page with Keon Coleman, and had his most accurate game of the year. When halftime rolled around, he had just one (!!) incompletion. So all of the “he’s just not accurate” fans were awfully quiet. He was making throws that we haven’t seen from him all year and he was extending plays with his legs.

Thorne got his mojo back.

He finished the game 30-for-42 with 323 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, but Jay Johnson is right, he played his butt off. And all of his interceptions this year have been him trying to do too much. Just look at the pick he threw against Washington. He was flushed from the pocket in his own end zone immediately and was forced to try and make a play but he just couldn’t connect with Germie Bernard on the sideline in a tight window.

Predictably, there were fans who knocked Thorne’s performance (not sure how) and said that changes needed to happen at quarterback. That’s not even close to the case.

If anything, Thorne proved why he is the team’s QB1. He was impressive all night long even when his defense decided to remain in East Lansing with Reed.

Thorne getting his mojo back was priority No. 1 of getting Michigan State into contender mode. Now the top priority is fixing that defense followed by repairing the offensive line, making necessary personnel changes, and getting healthy.

Michigan State is far from perfect, but at least it got its QB1 back.

Michigan State football

© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

3 best bets for Michigan State football vs. Washington

Michigan State football travels to Washington on Saturday evening. These are the three best bets for this matchup.

Folks, we are already in Week 3 of the Michigan State football season and if you’re anything like me, you’re looking to make up for some losses on your betting apps.

However, if you’re anything like me, that also means you refuse to bet on Michigan State. I simply cannot trade happiness for money and vice versa.

But I’m still going to do my best to give you what I think are the three best bets for Saturday night’s Michigan State football game at Washington. There are some player props as well as popular bets that I think both provide good standalone value as well as a great parlay opportunity.

Sure, you could parlay these three bets but you could also take each one on its own and play it safe. What fun is playing it safe, though?

These odds are from FanDuel as of Thursday, Sept. 15.

Disclaimer: This is not betting advice, but rather simply my opinion.

3. Over 56.5 points (-110)

Washington is averaging 48.5 points over the first two games and Michigan State is at 43.5 points. Basically, both of these teams have had zero trouble moving the ball and their defenses haven’t been tested yet. We’re going to see a lot of points on Saturday night.

Even if both teams go under their average by a couple of touchdowns, they’ll hit that over. Plus, overs are way more fun to root for than unders.

This one just feels like an easy choice with Michael Penix Jr. playing well along with the Spartans’ run game.

2. Keon Coleman anytime TD scorer (+175)

This is the best value on the list. Out of all my best bets, this is the only one with plus odds. That’s how confident I am about Keon Coleman reaching the end zone against the Huskies, though.

Washington hasn’t faced a receiver that’s built like Coleman yet and he may be shouldering an even larger workload with Jayden Reed hampered. I would be surprised if Reed doesn’t play and that would actually be better because it’ll spread the focus around. Coleman is going to catch at least one 50/50 jump ball down the field and I could see him Moss-ing a defensive back for a score. He was quiet last game, but he won’t be quiet two in a row.

1. Jalen Berger over 75.5 rushing yards (-115)

I have to say that I feel better about this bet than any of the others on this list and it’s because Jalen Berger hasn’t rushed for under 100 yards in a game as a Spartan yet. He has two 100-yard games under his belt and he may very well make it three on Saturday against a defense that has allowed 150 yards per game on the ground against inferior foes.

The Michigan State football backfield has been very good in the post-Kenneth Walker III era and that will continue vs. Washington. Berger will break this 75.5-yard mark by the end of the third quarter.

Parlaying my three “best bets” would give you +603 odds on FanDuel. So if you throw $10 on it, you’re winning $60.38. Not too shabby.

My bonus pick for the night would be Payton Thorne over 213.5 yards (-115). He broke that mark once already this year and was two yards short last week but he’s due. Thorne is going to finally play well.

Don’t be like me and play it safe.

Payton Thorne

© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Should we be worried about Payton Thorne’s slow start?

Michigan State has gotten off to a nice start in 2022, out-scoring opponents 87-13 through two weeks, but Payton Thorne has struggled.

Taking the first flea-flicker pitch of the season, Payton Thorne scanned down the field for his receiver, saw the rush in his face, and launched the ball while taking a massive hit.

As Thorne laid on the field after the big hit which led to another interception, the worst-case scenario crept into fans’ heads. Was the veteran quarterback injured and would he miss time with the schedule just about to hit its first tough stretch? He came off the field and was replaced by Noah Kim for a few plays and his backup threw a nice touchdown pass and completed both of his attempts for 22 yards.

Bad thoughts crept in once again as Kim hit Tre Mosley in the end zone on a strike: Is there now a quarterback controversy?

The short answer is obviously no, but after a second straight shaky performance to start the season, it’s time to start talking about expecting more from Thorne. No, he’s not in danger of losing his job, but he can’t be missing receivers at such a high clip. He’s just too good and proven for that.

Should we panic about his 58 percent completion rate against two so-so MAC opponents? It’s concerning, for sure, but I’m not ready to hit that panic button. Thorne was trying to do too much against Western Michigan in the opener and was too hyped up which explains his constant overthrows and 50 percent completion rate and then he carried that over into the Akron matchup.

Too much of the happy feet in the pocket, back-foot throws, forcing too much into tight windows, and rushing before defenders are even closing in on him. These are all correctable mistakes that he’s making and when he settles down in the pocket, he’s going to flourish. He’s made some really good throws this year but his bad ones are obviously much more memorable because they’ve been, well, really bad.

All of the mistakes Thorne has been making are correctable. Mel Tucker knows this. Jay Johnson knows this. Thorne knows this. Fans may not know this because of the excessive overreactions after two games, but when he settles down in the pocket, doesn’t throw off his back-foot, and trusts his line and receivers more, the overthrows will disappear.

Also, he needs to be running more when given the opportunity. Defenses will struggle to defend him if he showcases more of that dual-threat ability — he must do this against Washington. Extend plays with his legs, scramble out of a crowded pocket, and trust receivers to get open down the field. That, too, will fix Thorne’s early-season mechanics.

Should we be worried about Thorne after his slow start? No, because the issues are correctable and he’s proven that he can be a much better passer.

Heck, Connor Cook was 12-for-27 for 74 yards and no touchdowns in his first two games of 2013 against WMU and South Florida, and look how quickly he fixed his issues.

If he can’t correct them by Big Ten play then we can be slightly worried.

Payton Thorne

© Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State football: 5 burning questions for Akron matchup

After a season-opening win over Western Michigan, there are still some question marks pertaining to Michigan State football.

Questions have arisen after Michigan State football’s Week 1 win over Western Michigan, and for good reason.

The Spartans didn’t exactly look dominant against the Broncos outside of the first 18 minutes and the final six. Michigan State was able to eventually pull away, winning by 22 points and just barely covering the spread. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but you can’t really complain about a three-score victory over one of the better teams from the MAC.

And also, good teams win and great teams cover, so there’s that.

Michigan State had flashes of brilliance from the opener (Keon Coleman, Jacoby Windmon, Jalen Berger) but there are still some question marks heading into Week 2.

Here are my biggest questions that I’d like answered by Michigan State football against Akron.

1. Can Payton Thorne clean up the mistakes?

Going 12-for-24 is unacceptable against a team like Western Michigan, and Payton Thorne knows that. One of every three completions was a touchdown pass, however, and he made some really solid throws that ended up as incompletions, but he can’t be completing 50 percent of his passes against MAC teams.

Thorne was disappointed with his play and knows he needs to be better. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he had first-game jitters, but will he clean up the mistakes against a bad Akron team?

Dang, I hope so.

2. Will the kicking game find its guy?

Jack Stone reportedly won the starting kicker job out of fall camp and that’s something a lot of fans wanted to hear, but he didn’t look like a guy who wanted to keep his job in the opener. He made all of his extra point tries but he shanked a 44-yarder in the second half. I mean, this kick wasn’t even close.

Is Ben Patton going to push him? What about Stephen Rusnak? I just want a reliable kicking game because I can easily see this turning into a disaster.

3. Is the offensive line truly progressing?

It’s not easy to really get a grasp on the offensive line’s growth against MAC teams, but keeping Thorne clean and opening holes in the run game will still tell us something. If Michigan State can avoid giving up sacks against Akron and pave the way to another 100-yard rusher, or two, I think this answer will be ‘yes.’

Chris Kapilovic’s group isn’t super deep, but it needs to dominate games like these and if they do, I’m willing to buy stock in the offensive line.

4. Was the opener an outlier for Ben VanSumeren?

Only one defender looked better than Ben VanSumeren against Western Michigan and that was Jacoby Windmon. Let that sink in for a second.

I never thought I’d be talking about VanSumeren as potentially being the key to the defense’s success this year, but with Darius Snow going down, it’s real. He looked like a much better player than he was all of last year, recording 11 tackles and a tackle for loss which led the team — he had 12 total tackles a year ago.

I’m really interested to see if his domination in the opener was an outlier or if we can really expect him to be ‘the guy’ moving forward.

5. Can the defense dominate a mediocre Akron offense?

This is kind of built off the VanSumeren question. Can Michigan State dominate a really mediocre Akron offense that failed to put up 400 total yards in an overtime win over an FCS school? I really hope so.

If I were to pinpoint what I’d consider a ‘successful’ game on the defensive side of the ball, it would be a shutout. Michigan State football has the dudes to pull this off, but will the Spartans be able to do so?

These are my biggest questions heading into the Akron game but I obviously have more. If the Spartans can answer these, they’ll be in good shape heading into Washington in Week 3.

Michigan State football

© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State football: 2-deep depth chart projection for 2022

Michigan State football enters the season as one of the Big Ten’s best and most talented teams. Let’s dive into a projected depth chart.

The Michigan State football season is finally here and while we have plenty of great quotes from Mel Tucker to feast on from the past few weeks, we have no official depth chart.

Getting that weekly depth chart before games was always something to look forward to in the Mark Dantonio era but Tucker plays things much closer to the vest. While neither ever revealed too much, Tucker doesn’t like to give opponents an advantage.

And there are probably some surprises on his depth chart. Heck, we had no idea Cal Haladay was even in the playing rotation before last season when he took the field as a starter.

Will there be any major surprises when Michigan State football takes the field on Friday vs. Western Michigan? Probably.

Here’s what I think the two-deep depth chart may look like ahead of Week 1.

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne
Backup: Noah Kim OR Katin Houser

This one’s obvious as Thorne broke the single-season passing touchdown record last year, but there’s really no clarity behind him. I think Houser is more talented, but Kim has more experience and he drew some praise in preseason camp.

Running back

Starter: Jarek Broussard
Backup: Jalen Berger

There’s plenty of depth here even with the loss of Kenneth Walker III and we have the transfer portal to thank. I see Broussard as the Walker-lite type of back and for that, I think he starts. But I do think Berger is a perfect complement to him and will have some big games. Not a bad one-two punch.

Receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley, Keon Coleman
Backups: Germie Bernard, Christian Fitzpatrick, Montorie Foster

The starting receivers are arguably a top-three trio in the Big Ten. Reed is going to have another 1,000-yard season if he can stay healthy, Mosley is the most underrated pass-catcher on the team, and Coleman is going to have a breakout year. Behind these three are three very capable backups, featuring Bernard. This group is going to take a lot of pressure off of Thorne.

Tight end

Starter: Daniel Barker
Backup: Maliq Carr OR Tyler Hunt

Barker is a legit NFL draft prospect at tight end and he could really flourish in this offense. From all accounts, he’s made everyone in the tight end room better this season, including Carr who has reportedly improved his blocking. We’ll see plenty of Carr and Hunt behind Barker.

Offensive line

Starters: Jarrett Horst (LT), JD Duplain (LG), Nick Samac (C), Geno VanDeMark (RG), Spencer Brown (RT)
Backups: Brandon Baldwin, Brian Greene, Dallas Fincher, Matt Carrick, Ethan Boyd

Assuming everyone stays healthy, Michigan State should have a better offensive line this season. Horst, Duplain, Samac, VanDeMark, and Brown would make the best starting group, in my opinion, but you could also switch Greene and either of the guards. Injuries are a nightmare scenario in this group because of the lack of depth.

Defensive line

Starting ends: Brandon Wright, Khris Bogle
Backups: Jeff Pietrowski, Tank Brown

Bogle is the crown jewel at defensive end and his potential on the edge is endless. He came over from Florida this offseason to replace Jacub Panasiuk. On the other side, I see Wright getting the nod over Pietrowski. If you watched the Peach Bowl, you saw flashes of what he could do on the edge and it was scary good. Pietrowski is still a really good option along with Brown.

Starting tackles: Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow
Backups: Jalen Hunt, Derrick Harmon

Slade is the obvious star on the defensive line and one of the best interior linemen in the nation. Joining him will be the underrated Simeon Barrow who I believe is going to have a huge year. Hunt was supposed to break out last year and could never really stay healthy so maybe he’ll do better in a backup role this season. Harmon has been drawing a lot of praise this preseason, but Maverick Hansen, Dashaun Mallory, or Alex VanSumeren could easily back up Slade and Barrow, too.

Linebackers

Starters: Jacoby Windmon, Cal Haladay OR Aaron Brule
Backup: Darius Snow, Ma’a Gaoteote

I’ve been big on Windmon all offseason and I think he brings that elite pass-rushing from the linebacker position over from UNLV. But Haladay and Brule are both going to play meaningful snaps this season and it’d be hard to pick between either one. I know, Haladay started last year, but Michigan State has three legit starting linebackers (maybe actually 4-5) so Tucker can roll with whoever. I also really like Snow to have a big season here and we should hear Gaoteote’s name plenty.

Secondary

Starting cornerbacks: Ameer Speed, Ronald Williams
Backups: Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery

Michigan State football had the worst passing defense, in terms of yards allowed, last year. The cornerbacks need to step up, led by two SEC transfers. Speed started at Georgia last year and Williams was a projected starter at Alabama before getting hurt two years ago. Both should be solid. Behind them are Brantley (who is finally healthy) and Lowery.

Starting nickelback: Chester Kimbrough
Backup: AJ Kirk

For the starter, I have to go with last year’s nickel in Kimbrough even though he struggled mightily. He’s only going to get better here. However, for the backup, I’m going with who I want since we have heard next to nothing about anyone other than Kimbrough here. Kirk is in his second year and I think he could either be a really solid safety or a nickel but I’ll lean toward the latter this season. It could also be Justin White or Lowery.

Starting safeties: Xavier Henderson, Angelo Grose
Backups: Jaden Mangham, AJ Kirk

The starters here are obvious as Henderson is an All-Big Ten caliber safety and Grose showed flashes last year when he was fully healthy. I could see these guys having really good seasons. Behind them are a freshman and an unproven second-year player. Honestly, an injury would be devastating here.

Special teams

Kicker: Ben Patton OR Jack Stone

Jack Stone could easily win the job, but I think Tucker brought in Auburn transfer Ben Patton because he was so unsure about the starter. I’d love to see Stone trot out there as the starting kicker, but we won’t have clarity here for a few weeks, I’m sure.

Kick/punt returner: Jayden Reed

This requires little to no explanation. Reed is one of the best return men in college football.

Punter: Bryce Baringer

Another one that doesn’t need an explanation. Baringer is one of the best punters in the country.

Do you agree or disagree with anyone on this projected depth chart?

Michigan State football

© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Hypothetical 2022 NCAA Football ratings for Michigan State football players

If EA Sports NCAA Football was being released this year, this is how Michigan State football players could be rated.

In less than 365 days, every college football fan who also enjoys video games will be binging on some EA Sports NCAA Football. The game returns after nearly a decade-long absence and Michigan State football fans have to be thrilled since the last cover athlete was Denard Robinson.

Talk about leaving a sour taste in our mouths.

But the wait for a new game is almost over thanks to the NIL era and EA Sports’ desire to bring back the supremely popular video game.

If you’re anything like me, Madden just doesn’t cut it anymore. I need to be planted in front of my TV for hours, recruiting and winning national titles with Michigan State. I don’t want this, I need this.

Luckily we don’t have to wait much longer, but we can still imagine what life would be like if the game was released this year. Some Spartans may not be in next year’s game, so we may never know how good they’d be.

I’m going to hypothetically give the Spartans 2022 NCAA Football ratings. I’ll only be rating players who I believe could make the two-deep depth chart.

Here’s the scale I’ll work with:

  • 60-69: below average
  • 70-74: average or unproven
  • 75-79: above average
  • 80-84: good
  • 85-89: all-conference good
  • 90+: elite

Let’s start with the offense.

Offense

  • Quarterback: Payton Thorne (84), Noah Kim (73), Katin Houser (73)
  • Running back: Jarek Broussard (80), Jalen Berger (76)
  • Receiver: Jayden Reed (91), Tre Mosley (79), Keon Coleman (77), Germie Bernard (74), Christian Fitzpatrick (73), Montorie Foster (71)
  • Tight end: Daniel Barker (81), Maliq Carr (76), Tyler Hunt (74)
  • Offensive line: Jarrett Horst (80), JD Duplain (78), Brian Greene (77), Nick Samac (77), Geno VanDeMark (76), Spencer Brown (74), Matt Carrick (73), Dallas Fincher (71), Ethan Boyd (71) Brandon Baldwin (69)

Defense

  • Defensive line: Jacob Slade (87), Khris Bogle (82), Simeon Barrow (81), Brandon Wright (79), Jeff Pietrowski (79), Tank Brown (76), Maverick Hansen (74), Jalen Hunt (74)
  • Linebacker: Jacoby Windmon (86), Aaron Brule (84), Cal Haladay (82), Darius Snow (82), Ma’a Gaoteote (76)
  • Cornerbacks: Ameer Speed (79), Ronald Williams (77), Charles Brantley (76), Marqui Lowery (76)
  • Nickel: Chester Kimbrough (72), AJ Kirk (70)
  • Safety: Xavier Henderson (87), Angelo Grose (79), Jaden Mangham (72), AJ Kirk (70)

Special teams

  • Kicker: Ben Patton (79), Jack Stone (74)
  • Punter: Bryce Baringer (90)
  • Kick returner: Jayden Reed (90)
  • Punt returner: Jayden Reed (94)

Overall team rating: 86 (B+)

Long story short, this is a really good Big Ten team capable of contending for a conference title. Will the Spartans make the playoff? Probably not, but they will give every opponent a heck of a test.

I’d rate the Spartans as the third-best Big Ten team behind Ohio State (94) and Michigan (89). Wisconsin (85) and Penn State (84) are close behind in terms of rating.

Do you agree or disagree with any of my player or team ratings?