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Payton Thorne is a better QB than Cade McNamara

If you had to choose between the two, the choice is pretty clear: It's Michigan State's Payton Thorne

Throughout most of the history of the Michigan-Michigan State football series, the team that has been able to run the ball more effectively has been the biggest indicator in wins and losses.

While both teams rushing attack will certainly be important come Saturday, the Spartans may have a big advantage at quarterback in sophomore Payton Thorne.

The Naperville, Ill. native has thrown for 1,701 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season, which rank 4th and 2nd in the Big Ten, respectively. Thorne’s efficiency rating of 162.0 also ranks 2nd in the conference, trailing only Ohio State’s CJ Stroud.

Meanwhile, Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara has been called upon much less often by the Wolverines’ coaching staff. The junior from Nevada has thrown for 1,115 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2021, which rank 9th and 11th, respectively, in the Big Ten. McNamara is currently 9th in the conference in efficiency rating (137.1).

It’s fair to point out that McNamara has fewer passing attempts than Thorne this season, with McNamara attempting 146 passes on the season (11th in Big Ten), while Thorne has attempted 183 (7th). McNamara also has a very slight edge in completion percentage (63.0) over Thorne (61.2), but the margin in minuscule.

The disparity goes beyond the numbers however. Thorne has shown excellent accuracy and timing with his receivers on downfield throws. And it certainly helps to have two bonafide deep threats on the field in junior wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed.

McNamara, meanwhile, has struggled with the deep ball so far this season. Losing receiver Ronnie Bell, who was by-far the most experienced Wolverine wide out coming into the season, to injury in Week 1 has definitely had an impact on McNamara.

But Michigan is not deprived of talent at the wide receiver position. Go look at the recruiting rankings of the guys they’ve brought in over the past several seasons.

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When the going gets tough, when the opposing defense is effectively slowing the run game, which quarterback would you rather ask to make the big throw?

For MSU redshirt senior Connor Heyward, the choice is clear, for obvious reasons.

“Payton does a good job of staying level-minded and staying neutral, like Coach always talks about, not being too high, not being too low,” Heyward said. “As a quarterback, everybody’s looking at you. So, he’s done a great job this year and I think he’ll do a great job this weekend. He’ll make the plays that need to be made along the course of the game.”

While Thorne was on the roster last season, he’s making his first career start against the Wolverines. The significance of that is not lost on him.

“I’m from Illinois, so I’m not from the rivalry, the in-state thing, but I knew how big it was. And when you get here you realize it’s even bigger than you thought it was,” Thorne said.

“It’s a huge game, in-state rivalry, it’s been going on for years and years. There’s a ton of history behind the game, and you’ve got to prepare. You’ve got to prepare like you’ve never prepared before. But also, you’ve got to keep a level mind. You can’t get caught up too much in the hype.”

It’s one thing to say you trust your quarterback. It’s something else to prove that with play-calling and decision-making. At the end of the day, Mel Tucker and his coaching staff have shown more confidence in Thorne than Jim Harbaugh and his staff have shown in McNamara.

That can’t be disputed.