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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart in Peach Bowl versus Pittsburgh

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Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans will face the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Peach Bowl tonight, a game between two teams that both exceeded expectations this season. Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker has not released a public depth chart this season and though he has been a little less secretive about the roster as of late, he is not going to release one for this game either. Using prior game results and reports about the roster, I have predictions on who we will see as the starters and reserves.

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne

Backup: Noah Kim or Anthony Russo

Payton Thorne has an opportunity to set Michigan State program single season records in touchdowns and total yards with the offensive attack likely leaning on the passing game.

Unless the game outcome is decided or gets out of hand, I don’t think we will see Anthony Russo or Noah Kim receive any snaps.

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Running Back

Starter: Kenneth Walker III Elijah Collins/Jordon Simmons/Harold Joiner

Backup: Elijah Collins, Harold Joiner, Jordon Simmons

Kenneth Walker III has made the (wise) decision to skip the Peach Bowl and prepare for the NFL Draft. In his stead we will likely see a trio of running backs, maybe more. Elijah Collins received five carries versus Penn State after getting three carries against Ohio State and appears to be the guy to get the first opportunities in the ground game. Harold Joiner III and Jordon Simmons shall see action as well, though Pitt’s run defense is stout and may force MSU’s hand to run less and pass more. Could we see redshirt freshman Donovan Eaglin, too? We will find out.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Wide receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor, Tre Mosley

Backups: Montorie Foster, Terry Lockett, Christian Fitzpatrick, Keon Coleman

Good news came over the break in the form or Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed being available for the final game of the season. Nailor returns after suffering a hand fracture, while Reed has been dealing with an unspecified injury. The Spartans may try to incorporate a big-bodied pass-catcher during the bowl, so perhaps Christian Fitzpatrick or Keon Coleman will see some action.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Michigan at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tight end/H-Back

Starter: Connor Heyward

Backup: Maliq Carr

Unfortunately there isn’t the same good news at tight end, as Tyler Hunt will likely be unavailable due to injury. That said, MSU does have the flexible skill set of Connor Heyward available, as he plays in his last collegiate game against the school his father starred for in the 1980s. This feels like a spot where Heyward could have a big day. In addition, this is a good chance for Maliq Carr to receive more reps and be more of the focus at tight end.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Left tackle

Starter: Jarrett Horst

Backup: AJ Arcuri, Dan VanOpstall

Mel Tucker announced Jarrett Horst was “questionable” to play versus the Panthers. Horst has not been in uniform since the Oct. 30 victory over Michigan. If Horst is unavailable, look for AJ Arcuri to man the left tackle position. There have been murmurs that the Peach Bowl presents the right time for Geno VanDeMark and Brandon Baldwin to get on the field for Michigan State. It is important to get the youth movement started at the offensive line, and early indications are that this position group could see a lot of attrition. Offensive tackle in particular is a spot needing increased depth.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Blake Bueter

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Michigan State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Center

Starter: Matt Allen

Backup: Nick Samac

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right guard

Starter: Kevin Jarvis

Backup: Geno VanDeMark

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 06 Michigan State at Purdue Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right tackle

Starter: AJ Arcuri

Backup: Luke Campbell, Brandon Baldwin

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow

Backup: Maverick Hansen, Dashaun Mallory, Jalen Hunt, and Kyle King

No surprises for the interior defenders, Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow are a talented tandem. Perhaps Jalen Hunt will show a bit more burst in the game against Pitt — much was expected of him this season and he battled a foot issue for a significant portion of the 2021 season. I assume Maverick Hansen will be the third or fourth defensive tackle, as he’s consistently been a part of the rotation.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 16 Michigan State at Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive ends

Starters: Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley

Backup: Drew Jordan, Jeff Pietrowski, Michael Fletcher

The Peach Bowl will be the last time three of the top five defensive ends suit up in Green and White — Jacub Panasiuk, Drew Beesley and Drew Jordan will all exhaust their eligibility after the game on Dec. 30. Panasiuk and Beesley are the starters, while Jordan and Pietrowski tend to fill as the two deep. Based on the departures after this game, it is possible we could see some of the younger players so the staff can get live action tape for evaluations.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Linebackers

Starters: Noah Harvey, Cal Haladay

Backups: Ben VanSumeren, Ma’a Gaoteote,

Quavaris Crouch is “doubtful,” which leads me to believe he is in fact out. Noah Harvey once again will get the call to fill in for Crouch, and he pairs up with the no glove-wearing, chicken farming Cal Haladay. A smattering of time shall be occupied by Ben VanSumeren and Ma’a Gaoteote, the latter has found the transition challenging and hopefully with a few more weeks of bowl practice can begin to play a little faster and exhibit his tools, which led to his high four-star recruiting status — transfer linebackers are on the horizon and it’s time to cut out his own space.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cornerbacks

Starters: Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough

Backups: Marqui Lowery, Justin White

With a little time to heal and review tape, I’m a somewhat bullish on the potential of Ronald Williams and Chester Kimbrough playing their best game of the 2021 campaign. We are sure to see Marqui Lowery as well and I’m inclined to believe Justin White has been grinding enough to see some more time on the field to show what he can do in a big stage.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Nickelback

Starter: Darius Snow

Backup: ?

Darius Snow is the set-in-stone starter. He’s had a coming out party this year and I’m excited for his future. As to the backup, Michael Dowell has decided to enter the transfer portal and skip the bowl game. So who will be the reserve nickelback? I do not know. Maybe Lowery, White, Kendell Brooks, or possibly we will see a player who has not seen action yet? A dark horse is Khalil Majeed, who Xavier Henderson noted as having a great series of bowl practices. Majeed is a freshman walk-on who flew under the radar as a recruit after missing his final two seasons of high school football due to a knee injury from competing in lacrosse and the coronavirus pandemic.

Maryland v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Safeties

Starters: Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose

Backups: Kendell Brooks, Tate Hallock, Khalil Majeed

Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose will be the starters and will see the vast majority of snaps. In the need for a breather or injury situation, Brooks is the most likely reserve, with perhaps Tate Hallock or Majeed seeing some playing time.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Special teams

Placekicker

Starter: Matt Coghlin

Backup: Stephen Rusnak

I’m hopeful Matt Coghlin is healed and shall be able to finish out his career on a strong note. If not, Stephen Rusnak will be called to action again to handle kicking duties.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Punter

Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Cody Waddell

Michigan State fans received a holiday gift when Bryce Baringer announced he will return for the 2022 season. He’ll be an important player in the game versus Pittsburgh, as many predictions have this as a close game and field position will be key.

Michigan State v Rutgers Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Punt/Kick returner

Starter: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor

Backup: Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor

Reed and Nailor have not had chances to make explosive plays recently, so it would be nice if they got the shot at popping more more big return for the season.

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Long snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

True freshman Hank Pepper continues to be responsible for the long snapping duties.