The Michigan State Spartans host the Western Michigan Broncos on Friday night in the season opener for both programs. MSU head coach Mel Tucker did not release a depth chart last season, and unsurprisingly, has elected not to tip his hand to start the 2022 season either.
Using last season’s results and various reports from practice, I have predictions on who we will likely see as the starters and reserves for the Spartans in the season opener against the Broncos.
Starter: Payton Thorne
Backup: Noah Kim OR Katin Houser
This one is easy. Thorne has had a remarkable season — statistically one of the best quarterback seasons in program history, setting the single-season touchdown pass record (27) — and obviously exceeded all expectations. That said, Thorne had periods of inconsistency and there is room for improvement, particularly with his accuracy. Thorne finished the 2021 season strong in the Peach Bowl with over 350 yards passing and three touchdown, hopefully he can pickup where he left off.
No other quarterback on the roster has thrown a pass in college game action. Kim is in his third season with the program and likely will be the backup ahead of true freshman Katin Houser. In his second season, Hampton Fay has transitioned from quarterback to safety. Hopefully MSU can build a large enough lead for the backups to get some snaps.
Starter: Jalen Berger OR Jarek Broussard
Backup: Harold Joiner III, Jordon Simmons, Elijah Collins
This looks like a two-horse race between Berger (transfer from Wisconsin) and Broussard (transfer from Colorado). Broussard, the 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, comes to East Lansing with more accolades, but Berger was a highly-touted four-star recruit himself and he had the advantage of getting on campus early in January. Expect both players to get plenty of work.
There are three other backs who have seen considerable action, including two players — Collins and Simmons — who previously in their MSU careers were season rushing leaders. Joiner presents potential as a third-down back based on his size and skill set — at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. he’s a big passing target and can provide necessary blocking, perhaps he could even flex to H-Back.
Starters: Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley, Keon Coleman
Backups: Montorie Foster, Germie Bernardm Terry Lockett, Christian Fitzpatrick
MSU potentially has a trio of starters who could form one of the best groups in the Big Ten Conference. Reed returns after a 1,000-plus-yard and 10-touchdown campaign in 2021 and is on the short list of top receivers in the nation. Mosley enters his fourth season (though he’s still only 20 years old) and has shown himself to be a trustworthy target with a ceiling not yet reached. Coleman is the favored by many to be a breakout star for the Spartans, his mix of size, speed, and athleticism is uncommon and is waiting to be tapped.
Foster provides some experience and explosiveness; Fitzpatrick is a large frame who presents a favorable option in red zone opportunities; Lockett is a guy in the slot that has worked to polish his skills after coming to the program as a raw athlete. The guy to perhaps watch out for, though, is true freshman Germie Bernard, who has impressed throughout fall camp.
Starter: Daniel Barker
Backup: Tyler Hunt, Maliq Carr
I have structured the depth chart to reflect “11 personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back), though there is a real possibility Michigan State uses “12 personnel” (two wide receivers, two tight ends and one running back) a significant amount of plays. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson has shown a past preference to use 12 personnel and ran it periodically last year when Connor Heyward was featured as an H-back.
With Barker, Hunt and Carr, the Spartans should enjoy their most promising tight end unit in nearly a decade. Barker is a grizzled veteran who transferred from Illinois after setting some program records. Hunt returns for his final season with one of the more unusual profiles you’ll find (former punter), and he can help the team win in many varying ways. Carr has the physical tools to be an elite receiving target, and he enters his second season at MSU with many hoping he can reach is apex. The only matter of concern overall is the ability for one of the tight ends to be a dominant blocker.
Starter: Jarrett Horst
Backup: Brandon Baldwin
Michigan State used a 10-man, two-group, rotation for the offensive line for most of the 2021 season. After losing five experienced players to attrition, the Spartans will use a core of six players — Jarrett Horst, J.D. Duplain, Nick Samac, Matt Carrick, Spencer Brown and Washington State transfer Brian Greene to anchor the offensive line.
Greene has the capability of playing either guard position or center. Look for MSU to get both reserve tackles, Brandon Baldwin and Ethan Boyd, into the action for their first taste at competition in college football. Geno VanDeMark and Dallas Fincher are deeper bench options looking for snaps in the interior. At their current pace, all nine offensive lineman could accrue at least 300 snaps this season, which is a circumstance I have never heard of before.
Starter: J.D. Duplain
Backup: Geno VanDeMark
Starter: Nick Samac
Backup: Dallas Fincher
Starter: Matt Carrick
Backup: Brian Greene
Starter: Spencer Brown
Backup: Ethan Boyd
Starters: Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow
Backup: Maverick Hansen, Dashaun Mallory, Jalen Hunt and Derrick Harmon
Slade and Barrow are the anchors of the middle, there continues to be a lot of churn behind them with rotations. Most recently, Hansen has been the third defensive tackle and only trails the starters for downs on the field. Hunt battled a foot issue throughout the 2021 campaign, so hopefully he is healthy for 2022.
Hunt and Harmon figure into the rotation, too, and it will be interesting to watch if true freshman Alex VanSumeren gets any playing time.
Starters: Jeff Pietrowski, Brandon Wright OR Khris Bogle
Backup: Itayvion “Tank” Brown, Michael Fletcher
Michigan State had four veteran defensive ends, leave the program opening the door for new contributors and a different look on the edge. Pietrowski is a bit undersized, but in his appearances in relief last year he showed a surprising spark and maintained a high level of productivity. Wright flashed against Pittsburgh bringing explosiveness from the rush end which was rarely seen last season. Wright was originally recruited as a running back, switched to defensive end and now carries 250 pounds.
Bogle (2022 transfer from Florida) could also start. He and Brown (2021 transfer from Minnesota) are both long impressive athletes who were highly-ranked high school players. It’s quite possible these two could lead Spartan defensive ends in snaps, but that is dependent on them reaching their potential, which hasn’t yet been attained.
Fletcher has a similar frame to Bogle and Brown, but begins season four with the program, He hasn’t reached the level of play projected.
Starters: Cal Haladay, Jacoby Windmon
Backups: Darius Snow, Ben VanSumeren, Aaron Brule, Ma’a Gaoteote,
The linebacker crew has given me pause as it is so deep and skilled that I have a hard time believing only two linebackers will be on the field at any one time. Michigan State used a 4-2-5 defensive alignment last season, but the Spartans have a glut of linebackers, and to be frank, I don’t think you get the same value with this roster by replacing a linebacker with a nickelback. I’ve discussed this repeatedly that I could see MSU using a 4-3 or 3-3 front to get the best players on the field as much as possible, sitting four out of Haladay, Windmon, Snow, VanSumeren, Brule and Gaoteote feels like a shame to me.
There’s not a non-zero chance that Windmon plays some defensive end or “edge” as a stand-up rusher. It’s not wild to consider walking off the nickelback versus run dominant opponents and utilizing Snow or Brule in more plays as an outside linebacker.
Starters: Ameer Speed, Ronald Williams,
Backups: Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery
Georgia transfer Ameer Speed joins a much maligned group. Expect the pass defense to be better, if nothing else, the Spartans face many more run-based offenses this year. Speed and Williams are both long, plus-sized corners. Brantley and Lowery are slight, but show good tackling and ball skills.
Starter: Chester Kimbrough
Backup: Justin White
Kimbrough is the most likely candidate at nickelback at this time, he played an astounding 663 snaps last season. White is a walk-on who has been inserted into the action in big spots, most notably against Michigan and Ohio State. It will also be interesting to watch if Snow plays exclusively as a linebacker, or reps in at nickelback.
Starters: Xavier Henderson, Angelo Grose
Backups: Kendell Brooks, AJ Kirk, Jaden Mangham
Henderson returns for a fifth season. He has been named as a captain for the 2022 opener, which is unsurprising as he was the only player to be a named captain every game last year. When Henderson or Grose receive a breather, there’s probably a trio of players the staff have in mind to give relief. Kirk and Mangham need to be developed and get game reps.
Starter: Jack Stone OR Ben Patton
Backup: Stephen Rusnak
Stone was a top-tier recruit as far as kickers go, but he is an unproven true freshman and apparently hasn’t won the position outright yet. It will be interesting to see who trots out there for kickoffs, field goals and extra points tonight, but don’t be surprised if is Stone.
Patton, a transfer from Auburn who joined Michigan State a few weeks ago, provides another potential option as the starter and he has game experience. Last season with the Tigers, Patton was perfect in all six of his point-after-touchdown (PAT) attempts and made five out of six field goals, including a 49-yarder versus Alabama in overtime.
Rusnak stepped in last season after Matt Coghlin suffered an injury and was unavailable. Though Rusnak struggled in 2021, he has reportedly performed better in practice this spring and summer. It is also possible to see Evan Morris, who also plays tight end, get some work on kickoffs.
Starter: Bryce Baringer
Backup: Ryan Eckley, Evan Morris
Baringer returns for one final year. He was named a captain for the game versus Western Michigan. Baringer was one of the most productive punters in the nation, the Spartans are fortunate to have him for another go around.
Starter: Jayden Reed/Jarek Broussard
Backup: Montorie Foster, Tyrell Henry
Reed was explosive in the return game last season, returning two punts for touchdowns. In the event he is unavailable or the coaching staff looks to mitigate dangerous situations, Broussard, Foster or Henry (true freshman) are probable replacements with the capability of making plays.
Starter: Hank Pepper
Backup: Michael Donovan
Sophomore Hank Pepper continues to be responsible for the long snapping duties.