If there is one position with the starter set in stone for the Michigan State football team in 2022, it is at the quarterback spot (barring injury). Payton Thorne has that role locked up.
That wasn’t the case entering last season, when Thorne was locked in a position battle with Temple graduate transfer Anthony Russo for much of fall camp. Leading up to the season opener versus Northwestern, Michigan State fans were still in the dark about who would be taking snaps from the center. It was just a few minutes before that game kicked off that Thorne was publicly announced as the starter.
He then led his team to an 11-2 record and Peach Bowl victory.
Thorne now enters the 2022 season as one of MSU’s unquestioned leaders, and will be counted on to step up his game even further if the Spartans are to have continued success.
Although Thorne is the obvious starter, The Only Colors will kick off its annual positional previews series with quarterbacks ahead of the 2022 season.
Does Noah Kim have the inside track on the backup spot, or can Hampton Fay or Katin Houser move up the depth chart? Let’s break it down.
Starter: Payton Thorne, redshirt junior
With his efficient play, Thorne proved almost immediately why head coach Mel Tucker, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson and the rest of the staff named him the starter for the 2021 season. Of course, there were ups and downs and games where Thorne struggled (Ohio State, Nebraska, Indiana), but for the most part, he had a fantastic season.
In fact, Thorne had a record-setting performance last year. He broke the Michigan State program record for single-season touchdown passes with 27. He completed 234 passes on 388 attempts (60.3 percent) and threw for 3,233 yards with only 10 interceptions. He also added 181 rushing yards and four additional scores. Thorne earned All-Big Ten honorable mention accolades by both the coaches and media.
Thorne’s performance was a big reason why the Spartans went from 2-5 during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season to 11-2 with a New Year’s Six Bowl victory in 2021. However, with players like Kenneth Walker III, Jalen Nailor and several offensive linemen from last year’s team now gone, a lot more will fall on Thorne’s shoulders.
Johnson wants to see an even bigger leap in Thorne’s play come the fall.
“One of the big emphasis for me is to get Payton Thorne to even play at a higher level,” Johnson said in March during spring football. “He was really, really good last year. He was very solid. But I still think as he and I have reviewed things and he and I have talked, the growth for him I think is really there. I think for us to take that next step, I need to see that growth from him.”
Thorne, now in his fourth year with MSU, has already shown great poise, leadership and skill, but for the Spartans to ultimately have success in 2022, he will undoubtedly have to take another big step forward.
Projected backup: Noah Kim, redshirt sophomore
Kim is yet to throw a pass in a college football game, but now entering his third season in East Lansing, should have a leg up on the backup quarterback job. If Kim does get the No. 2 role, he will need to be counted on to fill in for Thorne and play at a high level if needed.
If the 2022 spring game was any indication, Kim seems to be somewhat far ahead of both the redshirt freshman, Fay, and the true freshman, Houser. That would make sense since Kim has had more time to master Johnson’s playbooks and learn the scheme. Kim made a couple of impressive throws during the spring game.
That said, the coaching staff isn’t ready to officially crown a backup quarterback until after fall camp is underway.
“Noah (Kim)...has a lot of talent,” Tucker said after the spring game. “He’s grown tremendously since he’s been here. It’s a competitive situation (for the backup quarterback job). Out there, you see Katin (Houser) and Hamp (Fay) and Noah. They’re all very talented guys. Noah’s willing to compete. He can throw it and he knows the system.”
Kim was rated a three-star prospect out of Westfield High School in the class of 2020, according to 247Sports’ Composite rankings. He was ranked at the No. 43 “pro-style” quarterback in that class. Kim earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2021.
Projected third-string: Hamp Fay, redshirt freshman
Fay enters his second season at Michigan State, following a redshirt freshman season in which he did not see game action in 2021.
During the spring, Johnson said Fay is “300 percent” better this year compared to where he was at as a true freshman last season.
Tucker also likes the progress he has seen from the young-signal caller.
“As a (true) freshman, (Fay was) kind of bright-eyed, wide-eyed and things were going kind of fast, but things are starting to settle down for him,” Tucker noted about Fay, following the spring game. “And (offensive coordinator) Jay (Johnson’s) doing a really good job with him.
“He’s an athletic guy. He’s got good height. He’s got good arm strength and he can run. You can tell that he’s getting command of our offense. His confidence is high. I love to see young players develop like that.”
Whether or not Fay is going to be able to win the backup role over Kim remains to be seen, but it sounds like he will be up for the challenge.
Per the 247Sports Composite rankings, Fay was a three-star recruit and ranked as the No. 77 overall quarterback in the 2021 class.
Projected fourth-string: Katin Houser
Originally a Boise State commit before flipping to Michigan State last summer, Houser was an early enrollee in January.
He saw some limited action during the spring game, but in all likelihood, Houser won’t see much playing time as a true freshman in 2022 — unless there are multiple injuries at the quarterback position. It is quite common for true freshmen quarterbacks to take a redshirt, and I would expect that would be the scenario with Houser.
Johnson said Houser was “doing some things” that impressed him during spring ball. But, with that said, Houser likely still has a while to go before he truly has the playbook mastered and is able to take command of the offense.
However, Houser very likely projects as Michigan State’s quarterback of the future, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he eventually earned the starting role in a couple of years. While high school recruiting rankings and stars don’t always translate to performance on the field at the college level, Houser is easily the highest-ranked quarterback on the roster. His potential is off of the charts.
Houser was listed as a four-star quarterback in the 247Sports Composite rankings. He was ranked as the No. 14 quarterback and the No. 215 overall player in the 2022 class. Houser was also an Elite 11 participant, which features only the top quarterback prospects in the nation.
Others on the roster:
- Andrew Schorfhaar, redshirt sophomore, 6-foot-2, 195 pounds DeWitt High School