Michigan State Football: Payton Thorne will be All-Big Ten first-teamer in 2022

Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) passes the ball during the first quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2021; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Payton Thorne (10) passes the ball during the first quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Payton Thorne was a major part in helping Michigan State football finish 10-2 in the 2021 regular season. This year was his first season as the full-time starter for the Spartans and he did not disappoint.

A lot of people overlooked Thorne this year because of a potential Heisman finalist in Kenneth Walker III playing alongside him but when you actually take time to look at and evaluate Thorne’s play, you can see a ton of potential in him, and how he has one of the highest ceilings in all of college football.

Before the regular season started, no one knew who the starting quarterback would be. It was a battle between the senior Temple transfer Anthony Russo or the sophomore Thorne, and obviously, the latter won the job as he was the starting quarterback for all 12 games this season.

In those 12 games, he threw for 2,886 yards which was good for 33rd in the nation and 24 touchdowns (tied for 20th nationally) with only nine interceptions, along with a 78 QBR (15th nationally). Those are all great numbers and this was with MSU having a run-first offense.

Now, Thorne did have his struggles last season. But that’s a given when it’s your first time playing every day in such a competitive, tough conference. On the season, though, he had a lot more good games than bad ones. One criticism about Thorne all year and even now has been that Walker helped boost those numbers because defenses had to focus on him — which is only partially true.

Though he still has the talent to step up when he needed to and made some amazing throws to his receivers. Saying all his success was because of Walker is just blatantly wrong.

What makes Payton Thorne so special?

When you sit back and just watch Thorne’s play on the field, you can tell he has a lot of potential. He has shown this year that he has a strong arm. Not only does he have a strong arm but he has an accurate strong arm. A lot of other Big Ten quarterbacks and really college quarterbacks in general struggle with some of the downfield passes Thorne makes; he completes them with ease.

On top of just having a really good arm, Thorne can also use his legs and create something out of nothing. He had 177 rushing yards and four rushing scores this year. Now that is not anything crazy like something you would see from a Malik Willis but the difference is that Thorne is more of a pocket passer, so he doesn’t always use his legs but when he has to he is very capable.

That takes me right into my next point: Thorne has great pocket awareness and great vision down the field. He has proven to be very good at escaping the pocket when he feels it collapsing or he senses pressure and has great vision down the field and knows how to read defenses pretty well.

You can tell he is good at it by how many deep passes he throws. If he wasn’t good at recognizing how the defense was going to play the deep ball, he would have a lot more interceptions and fewer yards.

Also, he has shown time and time again that if you are open even a little bit he will find you and give the receivers the best chance they can to catch the football.

What does this mean for Michigan State football going forward?

This means that unless Mel Tucker and the Spartans land another diamond in the rough running back, Thorne will have a bigger workload next year, and I think he will be up to the challenge and thrive having a larger role on the offense. With Walker more than likely leaving for the NFL, Thorne will have the chance to prove a lot of his doubters wrong that he doesn’t need an elite back to help him succeed.

Next year will be the perfect chance for Thorne to show his full potential. With receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor most likely coming back, along with Tre Mosley still being available, he will have three guys he is comfortable with throwing to.

On top of that, he will have Ricky White coming back from his year-long absence, four-star receiver Antonio Gates Jr. coming in, and another four-star wideout in Armani Winfield who is projected to commit to MSU.

To conclude all of this, If Walker doesn’t come back, Thorne will have to play his best football and he is in a key position to do so. With all the receiver talent potentially coming back along with the talent coming in, coupled with his natural talent I talked about earlier, you can expect to see a major jump next year from Thorne and have him live up to his ceiling to be a top-five quarterback in college football and even a possible NFL gunslinger in the future.

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