Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Column: Four burning questions as Michigan State football wraps up the regular season

December 12, 2020
<p>Redshirt freshman tight end Trenton Gillison (88) and redshirt senior tight end Matt Seybert (80) tackle a Penn State defender after a blocked field goal during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.</p>

Redshirt freshman tight end Trenton Gillison (88) and redshirt senior tight end Matt Seybert (80) tackle a Penn State defender after a blocked field goal during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Despite the season coming to an end, there’s a lot of questions that linger about this football team and program. As Michigan State gets set to travel to Penn State for its final home game, here’s my shot at trying to answer some of the biggest question marks that surround the program.

Is Payton Thorne the starting quarterback for the foreseeable future?

With Rocky Lombardi falling to injury after a rough start versus Ohio State, Payton Thorne stepped in and provided a spark after doing so against Indiana in his previous appearance.

He didn’t have the finish to the game he may have wanted after starting 11-11, but Thorne showed flashes of potential in the second half.

Thorne also provides a new element to the offense with his legs that Lombardi can do, but not to the same extent. With Lombardi’s potential injury and Thorne’s solid play, I would expect to see Thorne with perhaps other younger quarterbacks like Theo Day or Noah Kim getting a chance to show what they can do when given the chance.

Why are players departing the program through the transfer portal and should fans be worried?

I thought about going into what the transfer portal actually is, but this mystical and ambiguous portal is hard to track down. 

Five players, including former four star recruit Julian Barnett have entered the portal this season.

The players that are here were not recruited by Mel Tucker and his staff, as Tucker is in his first year, so seeing players depart shouldn’t raise any alarms.

Tucker is planning on utilizing the portal to his advantage this offseason, and I would be willing to bet he finds a few to supplement the roster after these departures.

Could Michigan State have more uniform additions in the future?

Tucker seems to be a man of the people as he followed through with the new gruff Sparty helmet like fans had been clamoring for for some time. Tucker on his weekly radio show said they had planned for a script State logo for the helmets against Maryland before it was canceled.

Part of recruiting now is displaying a brand and a swagger that turns heads towards your program. Flashy uniforms and strong social media campaigns do that, something that Tucker continues to show.

I would imagine as time goes on, there will be more uniforms and perhaps a new design since it’s been a long time since the base uniforms have been switched up.

Who will Michigan State play in the first “Big Ten Champions Week” next Saturday?

This one is not so easy to answer with the number of possibilities that could happen heading into Saturday's games. Outside of the top two spots in each division in the East and West, all five teams on each side of the divisions each only have two wins on the season with a varying number of losses depending on how many games they had canceled due to COVID-19.

Michigan State with a win and help from Rutgers against Maryland could finish as high as third in the East and could drop as low as last with a loss and Rutgers win.

The Spartans could play a variety of teams next week or not play at all, with the pandemic continuing to alter schedules in college sports. Purdue, currently last in the Big Ten West had to cancel their annual rivalry game against Indiana due to COVID-19 outbreaks within their own programs.

So instead of taking a shot into the dark, I’ll leave you with a couple matchups that would be the most fun and watchable.

The first is Wisconsin, a team that after starting the season with a blowout win over Illinois and returning to blow out Michigan after a two week absence due to COVID-19 looked to be the top dog in the Big Ten West. 

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Two straight losses derailed that, but this is a team that has a stout and sound roster filled with talent. In Michigan State’s two wins, they’ve showed that they can beat teams of Wisconsin’s caliber if they play sound football and don’t turn the ball over. This could be a solid place to at least show improvement from last year where they were blown out against the Badgers versus this year.

The other intriguing matchup is Nebraska, who is 2-4 with wins over Purdue and Penn State. The Cornhuskers have had a hard time finding clarity at the quarterback position this season with a depleted roster in Scott Frost’s second season as head coach.

Sound familiar? This would be the battle of two teams trying to establish their identity, who would show they’ve found theirs?


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