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3 Major Questions Michigan State Football Must Answer In 2022

There's reason for optimism, but the Spartans have questions marks in these areas...

Michigan State football recently concluded its five-week spring practice, and the coaching staff is currently travelling across the country, recruiting the next batch of future Spartans.

As summer approaches, Mel Tucker’s programs has three major questions that need to be answered in order for Michigan State to have a successful season in 2022.

1.) How much can the secondary improve?

Tucker and his defensive coaches say the Spartans need to improve collectively as a defense – the D-line, the linebackers and the defensive backs – and to some extent that is true, but there’s no denying the fact that the Spartans had one of the worst secondaries in all of college football in 2021. Michigan State ranked dead last in the nation in passing yards allowed per game.

Fortunately, there are a couple viable reasons to expect improvement from the Spartans secondary next season. After former cornerbacks coach Travares Tillman left East Lansing for a spot on Georgia Tech’s coaching staff, Tucker himself took over the job of coaching up the Spartans’ corners. Coaching defensive backs is how Tucker rose through the ranks during his career. He coached DBs under Nick Saban at LSU and won a national championship at Ohio State in 2002 coaching the position. Tucker then coached DBs in the NFL, before returning to college football and winning another national championship as a DB coach at Alabama in 2016.

In addition to the expertise that Tucker will bring in coaching the Spartans’ corners, Michigan State also landed Georgia transfer cornerback Ameer Speed out of the portal this offseason, and returns one of the top safeties in the Big Ten in fifth-year season Xavier Henderson. The Spartans showed signs of improvement midway through the 2021 season, but the secondary was hit with the injury bug, which stymied that progress. The returns of sophomore Charles Brantley and senior Ronald Williams gives MSU a nice boost at corner, and senior Chester Kimbrough played nickel for the Spartans during the final, open practice this spring. Michigan State also added a lot of pieces to its secondary in the 2022 recruiting class with guys like Caleb Coley, Ade Willie, Dillon Tatum, Jaden Mangham and others.

I think there’s reason to believe that the Spartans’ secondary will be vastly improved from a season ago, and may even become one of the team’s strengths.

2.) Does the offensive line have enough depth to make it through the season?

As optimistic as I am about the secondary, those good vibes do not carry over to Michigan State’s situation along the offensive line. MSU lost starters AJ Arcuri (OT), Matt Allen (C) and Kevin Jarvis (G/T) from last year’s nine-man rotation at offensive line, as each will pursue professional careers. Regular contributors Blake Bueter and Luke Campbell are also gone, and two additional players departed the program via the transfer portal.

The Spartans’ also only had seven to eight healthy bodies at O-line during spring practice, including two walk-ons. Assuming the guys who were out during spring return healthy for fall camp, Michigan State’s starting offensive line will likely look like this: LT – Jarrett Horst, LG – J.D. Duplain, C – Nick Samac, RG – Matt Carrick, RT – Spencer Brown.

Michigan State will also add transfer O-lineman Brian Greene from Washington State this summer, but those six will be the only offensive lineman on the Spartans’s roster who have taken collegiate snaps. Carrick is recovering from an ACL injury, while Horst and Duplain weren’t healthy enough to compete during spring practice.

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If those six offensive linemen stay mostly healthy, I think MSU will be good enough to contend for the Big Ten East. But if the Spartans suffer any sort of attrition up front, this could be a season-derailing problem.

Redshirt sophomores Brandon Baldwin, Jacob Lafave and Dallas Fincher, as well as redshirt freshmen Kevin Wigenton, Ethan Boyd and Geno VanDeMark each got more than their fair share of repetitions this spring but they are young, inexperienced and still may be a year away from being ready to contribute. Michigan State will add four true freshman lineman this summer from the 2022 recruiting class, but it will take time for those guys to acclimate to the college game as well.

Offensive line is the Spartans’ biggest question mark heading into 2022 and, in my opinion, will be the determining factor in how good this team will be this season.

3.) How does Michigan State replace Kenneth Walker III’s production in the backfield?

Anybody who followed Michigan State, or college football in general, learned who Kenneth Walker III was pretty early into the 2021 season. Now, the Doak Walker Award and Walter Camp Award winner is moving on to the NFL, and the Spartans will need somebody else to hand the rock to in their backfield.

Michigan State does not have a singular option at tailback who can replicate Walker’s production and impact, but there’s a collective of players who could provide what the Spartans need out of their backfield this season.

Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard transfer in from Wisconsin and Colorado, respectively, and each brings with him two years of experience playing Power 5 football. Broussard ran for 1,556 yards, at 5.2 yards per carry, and seven touchdowns with the Buffaloes, while Berger went for 389 yards (4.6 per carry) and three touchdowns as a Badger.

The Spartans return redshirt seniors Elijah Collins and Harold Joiner, as well as junior Jordon Simmons, as experienced backs. We also heard a lot of good things about redshirt freshman Davion Primm this spring. There are enough pieces here for Michigan State to work with.

For my money, I think Broussard will come in and be the starting guy for the Spartans. He showed good speed and vision at Colorado, and the numbers he put up with the Buffs speak for themselves. Berger is a little bigger and more physical, which could give Michigan State a nice one-two punch.

Behind them, the Spartans will look to get one or two other guys in the running back rotation. We saw what Collins was capable of during his breakout sophomore season (988 yards, 4.4 yard per carry, five touchdowns) but he’s been limited in each of the last two seasons. Joiner and Simmons could both be short-yardage or third-down backs, while Primm is more of a speed option.

I like Michigan State’s running back room. We’ll see who emerges this fall.