Michigan State football: Questions Spartans must answer heading into 2022
Mel Tucker has Michigan State catching all sorts of attention these days. Tucker continues to stockpile talent via traditional recruiting and utilization of the transfer portal — leading many to think that his Spartans could be one of the top teams in the Big Ten this fall.
Two players appear on the preseason Maxwell Award list, recognizing the country’s potential top players. There are losses in key positions, per the usual in college football (namely RB Kenneth Walker III), but the Spartans seem to have some pieces that could help fill voids.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important questions surrounding Tucker’s Spartans as they forge ahead into 2022, looking to prove that they’re once again among the Big Ten powers and capable of reclaiming a spot in the national spotlight.
Transfer power: Replacing Kenneth Walker III
There is no way to “replace” Walker; however, the Spartans — who’ve traditionally had a solid backfield for the past 20 years — have some options, specifically in transfers Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard. Berger, formerly of Wisconsin, and Broussard, formerly of Colorado, are set to be the Spartans’ top options at running back this fall.
What are the chances that Tucker strikes gold with another star running back? And a transfer, at that?! If successful, he could be the first coach in recent memory to turn transfers into elite RBs in consecutive seasons.
Are Thorne and Reed really elite?
What does it take to be a league and national contender?
Well, a lot of things.
But if a team has a star QB and a star WR, well … that’s a good start.
Last season, Michigan State had everything on offense: Run, pass and catch.
This season, the Spartans will have to see what happens with the run — but they already know that they have an elite QB-WR tandem in Payton Thorne and Jayden Reed, who both appear on the preseason Maxwell Award list. Thorne could end up setting single-season records in passing TDs and total yardage, while Reed could end up as one of the nation’s top receivers.
Jacob Slade: QB hunter extraordinaire?
With 34 appearances and 19 starts, Slade has become one of the most reliable defensive linemen for the Spartans during the past 3 years. Now a redshirt senior, the defensive tackle will be looked upon to anchor a D-line that’s going through somewhat of a transformation in the experience department.
Will Slade be among the top Big Ten players in the trenches this fall? Judging by his track record, he should be one of the league’s top pass rushers, evidenced by the stat below via Pro Football Focus College. Since 2017, no other DT in the league has harassed and hurried more QBs than Slade.
If the Spartans are to contend in the Big Ten, they’ll need a strong defense — and that all starts up front with the D-line applying pressure.
Most hurries in a season by a Big Ten DT since 2017:
1️⃣ Jacob Slade (’21): 33
2️⃣ Robert Windsor (’19): 27
2️⃣ Dre’Mont Jones (’18): 27
4️⃣ Maurice Hurst (’17): 26 pic.twitter.com/HTVpiTqPu1
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 17, 2022
Another double-digit win season?
Last season, the Spartans went 11-2, posting their 1st double-digit win season since 2017, when they went 10-3 thanks to a Holiday Bowl victory. If you peel back a little further, you’ll see that 2021 was MSU’s 1st double-digit-win regular season since 2015, when it went 12-2 under former coach Mark Dantonio.
The Spartans haven’t had back-to-back 1o-win seasons since a 3-year streak from 2013 to 2015.
Threepeat over UM?
A year ago, Tucker became the first Michigan State coach to open 2-0 vs. Michigan. This year, he could further solidify himself in the Spartans’ record books with a 3rd consecutive victory over the Wolverines.
The past 2 games have been close, so it’s not like MSU has just skated past Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines. In 2021, the Spartans won 37-33 in East Lansing, a game UM would have won had Aidan Hutchinson’s TD counted. In 2020, the Spartans got away with a 27-24 victory in Ann Arbor.
Will this year be a blowout for Tucker? Or will MSU barely escape with a victory? Or will Harbaugh halt Tucker’s charge and coach UM to its first victory in the series since 2019, when it blew out MSU 44-10 in Ann Arbor?