When quarterback Anthony Russo transferred to Michigan State ahead of the 2021 season, many thought he would start for the Spartans. Coming from Temple, where he was a multi-year starter, Russo seemed like the easy choice.
However, once fall camp started, Payton Thorne started to separate himself from the rest of the quarterback room and would eventually go on to earn the starting job. The rest is history.
Fast forward a year and a half and Thorne is coming off his worst game of the 2022 season. Despite having a season’s worth of starting experience, and an entire offseason knowing the starting job was his, Thorne has not made that next jump that many expected him to.
In the meantime, redshirt sophomore Noah Kim has shown flashes at the end of games or that has drawn fans attention. Does Kim need to get a closer look? Does true freshman Katin Houser deserve more attention? Is this a similar situation as Tyler O’Conner and Brian Lewerke in 2016? Or Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook in 2012?
The short answer is Thorne should still start and shouldn’t worry about his job, but having a healthy competition could help make him better.
Payton Thorne is a captain and, regardless of his performance, is the most vocal leader on the team. You couldn’t say that about Spartan quarterbacks of the recent past. He’s also coming off the school’s single-season record for passing touchdowns.
While Thorne has thrown six interceptions, he has 900 yards passing and seven touchdowns, putting him on pace for another 20+ touchdown season and 2,700 passing yards. That’s enough for him to keep the job, without thinking about Kim or Houser.
But what about this shoulder injury that kept him out of practice last week? If that lingers and his performance against Maryland is similar to his performance against Minnesota, then it is time to start preparing Kim – not to start, but to at least get more playing time than he has so far.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson is also the quarterbacks coach. He sees how Thorne, Kim, and Houser perform daily. Many blame head coach Mel Tucker for not putting in Kim earlier against Minnesota, but it is ultimately Johson’s decision. Tucker has his plate full working with the defensive backs.
After redshirting his first season, and with the free year of eligibility due to the COVID season, Thorne still has a year of eligibility left after this year. If he decides to come back, it may be time to reassess the quarterback room.
Houser will be more adjusted to the college game, and ready to play. Kim has done everything this year to deserve a fair shot as well. However, reassessing in the middle of the season runs the risk of collapsing the whole team if a captain loses his job.
In a way, this is a good problem to have. Michigan State has two quarterbacks with compelling arguments to start, and possibly will have a third next year. It’s on the coaches now to properly evaluate, and get the most talented player on the field.