The 2022 season didn’t go exactly as planned for Michigan State. The Spartans went 5-7 and missed a bowl game in Head Coach Mel Tucker’s third season, with roster health and talent level just a couple of the contributing factors that led to such a poor showing.
Just a couple of years ago, Tucker had the Spartans in a New Year’s Six bowl, reaching 11 wins in just his second season with the team. Expectations inside the program haven’t shifted heading into 2023 despite a terrible 2022 season, even if the 5-7 record and missed bowl game certainly put a damper on some of the good feelings outside of the Skandalaris Football Center.
“Our goal is always to win championships - Big Ten Championships, national championships,” redshirt junior linebacker Cal Haladay said. “That’s always the goal, I mean, that’s everyone’s goal.”
A lot has to happen for Michigan State to return (or surpass) the heights it reached a few seasons ago. Health may top that list after a 2022 season chock-full of injuries.
Fifth-year senior defensive back Xavier Henderson, fifth-year senior offensive lineman Jarrett Horst, redshirt senior defensive tackle Jacob Slade and sixth-year offensive lineman Matt Carrick are just a few of the upperclassmen leaders that missed chunks of the season due to injury. Redshirt junior linebacker Darius Snow also suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season.
Even redshirt senior quarterback Payton Thorne struggled with injuries throughout the season, partially explaining his dip in performance compared to his showing in 2021.
Tucker and his coaching staff are aware of this, putting health at the center of this offseason, especially during the spring. There will be more practices featuring “shadow" play, where players won’t play through the ball and won’t necessarily try to make a physical on-ball play.
“I think the big thing is to keep everyone healthy for the duration of the season,” Haladay said. “We don’t need anybody hurt going into summer.”
Positional competitions will also be something to keep on eye on during spring football. Tucker has not been shy about his philosophy when it comes to roster competition: the best player will play the most, regardless of year or prior experience.
“There’s competition all around here,” redshirt senior center Nick Samac said. “I don’t think I’ve secured anything yet, so I’m fighting every single day. That’s the same with Payton and everyone. I think we’re all fighting for a starting spot this year, that’s our mindset.”
Heading into his fourth season as head coach, Tucker will have plenty of his own recruits vying for spots this year. Michigan State brought in the 22 overall class in 2023 (according to 247Sports.com), headlined by eighth four-star recruits.
“People come to play, that’s kind of what the goal is,” Haladay said. “You don’t come here just to hang out and be on the sideline.”
But again, prior achievements won’t mean much during the spring, whether it’s a recruit or a veteran player.
This season's competition will start at the very top. Now in his third year as Michigan State’s starting quarterback, Thorne will have to yet again prove that he deserves another shot guiding the offense.
“For me, it’s the same as it’s always been: just compete,” Thorne said. “I’m not trying to be competing against anybody in my position group, I’m competing against the defense.”
Redshirt freshman Katin Houser, a four-star from the 2022 recruiting class, and redshirt junior Noah Kim are the two quarterbacks that look to be giving Thorne a run for his money during the off-season.
Beyond quarterback, there's roster decisions to be made everywhere. With plenty of underclassmen four-star talent sprinkled through the roster, Spring football will offer a chance for the veterans of the team to either reaffirm or negate their status as starters.
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