clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Illinois

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans travel to Champaign to take on the No. 16-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini for a matchup under the lights on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Big Ten Network.

Michigan State will return to the field after a loss to the Michigan Wolverines and the fallout from the postgame fracas, which resulted in eight players being suspended.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker will not provide the public with a depth chart, therefore after viewing the previous game and reading reports (there has been many) about the roster, here are my predictions for the MSU starters and reserves against Illinois — even with the team down several starters and contributors.


Starter: Payton Thorne

Backup: Noah Kim

Michigan State will be starting Thorne again as he gives the Spartans the best opportunity to win and bowl hopes still exist. That being said, as the season continues to spin out of control, the likelihood that Thorne is replaced by Kim and/or true freshman Katin Houser (much less likely) increases. Statistically, Illinois has the best defense in college football, allowing not even nine points per game, and yielding only six touchdowns thus far. Considering the situation, this could be a space where we see a replacement under center before the finish.

Ohio State v Michigan State
Michigan State backup quarterback Noah Kim.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Running Back

Starter: Jalen Berger

Backup: Elijah Collins, Jarek Broussard

The ground attack remains largely stifled, ineffective in providing any consistent gains and incapable of providing balance. We’ll see the trio of ball carriers again, perhaps they will be more involved in the passing game as a wrinkle left largely unused so far this season.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Wide receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed, Keon Coleman, Tre Mosley

Backups: Germie Bernard, Montorie Foster, Cade McDonald, Christian Fitzpatrick

The wide receivers are a known commodity and remain the most probable path to pulling off an upset. I foresee no surprises with this group.

Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Tight end/H-Back

Starter: Daniel Barker

Backup: Tyler Hunt, Maliq Carr

The lack of production from the tight end position is one of the more disappointing (and troubling) aspects of this offense. I would assume Barker will get the most action as he is facing his former club in Illinois and was named a captain this week. Hunt will continue utilization as a blocker. Carr teases with potential, however his ceiling goes unrealized due to his poor blocking.

Western Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images

Left tackle

Starter: Jarrett Horst

Backup: Brandon Baldwin

The starting five on the offensive line looks to fluctuate for the first time since the season opened as J.D. Duplain and Matt Carrick both experienced injuries in the last outing against Michigan. It’s possible Duplain and Carrick both do start, but in the event either was a scratch, Brian Greene would be the first replacement. Otherwise, Jarrett Horst, Duplain, Nick Samac, Matt Carrick and Spencer Brown would be the the first unit as per usual. Perhaps Geno VanDeMark gets the first start in his career — he played in the second half against the Wolverines. It would be beneficial if the two-deep, particularly within the offensive line, received an expanded role.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Michigan State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain (status uncertain)

Backup: Geno VanDeMark

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Pitt v Michigan State Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Starter: Nick Samac

Backup: Dallas Fincher

Michigan State University vs Ohio State University Set Number: X164186 TK1

Right guard

Starter: Matt Carrick (status uncertain)

Backup: Brian Greene

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Michigan State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Right tackle

Starter: Spencer Brown

Backup: Ethan Boyd

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 08 Ohio State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow

Backup: Derrick Harmon, Maverick Hansen, Jalen Hunt, Alex VanSumeren, Dashaun Mallory

Again, much will be asked of the defensive interior as the Spartans will face yet another opponent that will lean heavily upon running the ball — Illinois running back Chase Brown leads the nation in rushing yards (1,208). The defensive tackles collectively may be as healthy as they been the entirety of the season. They will be tested.

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

Defensive ends

Starters: Michael Fletcher, Avery Dunn

Backup: Chase Carter, Jeff Pietrowski (status uncertain), Khris Bogle (status uncertain)

It’s possible Michigan State will be without FIVE defensive ends. So that’s neat. Zion Young, Itayvion “Tank” Brown and Brandon Wright were three of the eight players suspended, while Jeff Pietrowski and Khris Bogle have missed several games due to Injuries. I’ll cross my fingers and hope for one or both of the injured to return, but it’s been a difficult season for optimism. Regardless, I expect Michael Fletcher and Avery Dunn to get the starts, Fletcher got the nod versus the Wolverines while Avery has gotten snaps sporadically.

Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images


Starters: Cal Haladay, Aaron Brule, Ben VanSumeren

Backups: Ma’a Gaoteote, Carson Casteel

With Jacoby Windmon suspended and MSU essentially forced to use a 4-3 alignment against a mauling team that runs the ball at will, things are going to get dicey. Haladay and Brule likely need to play crucial roles on Saturday.

OK, so the best defensive player this season, who has assigned to the linebackers the past few weeks is now suspended. Now what? Odds are Ben VanSumeren reports back to starter status, he’s the most experienced and his skill set favors a run heavy opponent. Gaoteote will either be the first replacement or the third starter. Perhaps we’ll see a new linebacker such as Carson Casteel or Quavian Carter. (I’m not going to lie, at this point I’m checking for proper spelling of names...)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Michigan State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Starters: Ameer Speed, Charles Brantley

Backups: Ronald Williams, Marqui Lowery (status uncertain)

The usual faces in the usual places. The Illini are efficient in the passing game — but not prolific. Filling run gaps and maintaining contain will be at a premium.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Michigan State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nickel back

Starter: Dillon Tatum

Backup: Chester Kimbrough

Angelo Grose, the most experienced player who has seen time at nickel back, and Justin White, a previous starter, are both suspended. Sink or swim time for true Freshman Dillon Tatum. Kimbrough can also soak up snaps. Fortunately, the nickel back position should be lightly utilized against Illinois.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Wisconsin at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Starters: Xavier Henderson, Kendell Brooks

Backups: Dillon Tatum, Jaden Mangham (status uncertain)

Henderson and Brooks are a solid duo, particularly against the run. Tatum is the likely reserve for this game at nickel/safety. It should be noted the wind is predicted to be gusty and strong, so passing attempts could be less frequent than even the norm for the Fighting Illini.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Michigan State at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Special teams


Starter: Jack Stone

Backup: Ben Patton, Stephen Rusnak

I’m baffled at this point with the kicker — who handles what duties is apparently dictated totally by what happens on the practice field, away from the eyes of the public. Wind, again, will be a significant determining factor in this game, so we may once again not even see a field goal attempted from MSU’s end.

Michigan State v Maryland Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images


Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Ryan Eckley, Evan Morris

If not for Baringer, the Spartans may have the worst special teams unit amongst the Power Five conferences. Fortunately, MSU does have him, and he’s one of the best punters in the nation.

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Punt/Kick returner

Starter: Jayden Reed

Backup: Jarek Broussard/Germie Bernard/Cade McDonald

Repeat. If there are opportunities to be made in the return game, I encourage the player to take them — a special teams big play or two would be massive against Illinois.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Long snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper (status uncertain)

Backup: Michael Donovan

oh boy, last week’s long snapping was a disaster with Pepper still out with injury. Let’s hope he can return this week. :-/

Western Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images