EAST LANSING – Entering the 2021 regular season, Michigan State faces another quarterback competition with significant changes in the room.
Rocky Lombardi, who led the Spartans past Michigan and Northwestern, transferred to Northern Illinois and MSU added grad transfer Anthony Russo (Temple).
Last year, head coach Mel Tucker declined to name a starter in week one against Rutgers, calling it a "fierce competition" between Lombardi, Payton Thorne, Theo Day, and Noah Kim.
Naturally, Michigan State was behind in 2020, and due to the pandemic, the new staff wasn't able to evaluate the team traditionally. A majority of the offensive and defensive schemes were implemented through Zoom meetings, leaving the Spartans with more questions than answers.
By season's end, Thorne appeared to be the frontrunner to take over under center, but following MSU's first spring practice, Tucker called it an "open competition."
Returning Players: Payton Thorne, Theo Day, Noah Kim, Andrew Schorfhaar, Zach Gillespie
Transfers: Anthony Russo, a graduate transfer from Temple
Incoming Freshmen: Hampton Fay
Entered Portal: Lombardi & walk-on QB Eli McLean
Analysis: Michigan State entered spring practice with Russo and Thorne headlining the quarterback competition, which could stretch to the fall. Either way, Tucker won't tip his hand, so don't get too excited about spring ball. Even if there is a clear gap, the second-year coach won't reveal who.
Russo provides some much-needed veteran leadership in the room. The 6-foot-4 signal-caller posted a 16-10 record at Temple while tossing 536 completions, 6,292 passing yards, and 44 touchdowns.
Thorne showcased his skill and promise at times featuring 11 straight completions vs. Ohio State and three first-half scores against Penn State. The redshirt sophomore is also a threat with his legs ending 2020 with a pair of 30+ yard runs.
Day has appeared in two career games while Kim didn't take a snap in his first season, keeping his redshirt intact.
Fay received loads of praise from the staff, and at 6-foot-6, 230-pounds, Tucker and co. are excited about his arm, throw power and athleticism.
Whoever starts week one can rest easy knowing Michigan State returns its top four receivers in Jalen Nailor, Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley, and Ricky White.
Want the latest breaking MSU news delivered straight to your email for FREE? Sign up for the DAILY Spartan Nation newsletter when you CLICK THE MAGAZINE ICON at the top left of the page or the FOLLOW button back on the main page. Don't miss any of the latest up to the second updates on Michigan State Sports when you follow on Twitter @HondoCarpenter @McLainGrant1