Michigan State mailbag: Is Spartans' next quarterback in the transfer portal?

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

With basketball heating up, the Michigan State mailbag is starting to make a shift with plenty of interest in the Spartans’ 5-0 start.

However, it’s still football season and that means there are plenty of questions about Mel Tucker’s team heading into Saturday’s game at Penn State. We try and tackle who Michigan State might be looking at in the transfer portal, whether Michigan State plays to its competition and what’s the deal with the special teams.

From there, it’s mostly hoops as we tackle Joshua Langford’s durability, the guard combination of Rocket Watts and Foster Loyer, as well as the front-court rotation. We even take a stab at what the starting five might be next year.

Here it is, this week’s mailbag:

Temple quarterback Anthony Russo is in the transfer portal.

Question. Which transfer QB do you see MSU landing Jalen Mayden or D'Wan Mathis? — @pfnnewmedia

Answer. Or McKenzie Milton from UCF, or Anthony Russo from Temple. I guess what I’m saying is at this point I feel comfortable saying one thing — Mel Tucker is absolutely open to finding as much help out of the portal as possible, and that includes quarterback. In fact, quarterback might be at the top of the list. Those are four names to keep an eye on, and there’s no telling what other quarterbacks might join the list in the next few weeks. It’s a whole new world with the transfer portal and Tucker appears ready to dive in, so expect plenty of names to pop up.

Q. Coach Tucker came in with a reputation for playing down (or up) to the level of his opponents. Are we seeing that play out this season? — @ArtyFTW

A. I’m not sure I’ve heard about that relative to Tucker, and I’m not so sure it applies. You could say it does when you look at the opening loss to Rutgers, followed by wins over Michigan and Northwestern. However, it hardly applies in one-sided losses, namely to Iowa and Ohio State. I guess we’ll get another impression this week against a Penn State team that I would qualify as fairly even with the Spartans.

Q. Why isn’t there more attention to how consistently horrible our special teams perform? Other than our FGs, all coverage and return teams plus our punting is way inferior, costing us big yardage in field position. And NEVER any kick blocks or return TDs. — @patrickragains

A. Well, there’s been at least some attention paid considering I asked Tucker directly last Saturday about the number of times the Spartans called for a fair catch on kick returns, even on short kicks when it seemed like there was plenty of room to run. Are there any great answers to why the special teams haven’t been very good? Not really, but this week Tucker said he thinks the coverage units have improved, and he’s probably right. However, the consistency in the return game as well as punting simply isn’t there. Bryce Baringer has had some big punts, but too often mixes in some ugly ones, as he did twice last week. So, Tucker and his staff are certainly aware of it, but like some other issues on the team, I believe it will get better as the personnel improves.

Q. The backstory explaining Elijah Collins' demise, please. — @ThezeDaze

A. I wish I could tell you, but with limited access this year it’s been tougher to get to the bottom of some of these things. I’ll say this, when Collins has gotten opportunities, he hasn’t looked terribly effective or explosive. He was more active last week against Ohio State and seemed to be running with a little more fire, but early in the season, he looked a step slow. Why is hard to nail down, especially since the Spartans desperately need a running back to grab control of the room and become the primary ball carrier.

Q. Will Michigan State have a bowl game after Champions Week? —@JWilliamsMSUFan

A. If they win the last two games and finish 4-4, they’ll have a pretty good chance. The only problem is four of the bowl games with Big Ten tie-ins — the Las Vegas, Pinstripe, Redbox and Quick Lane bowls — have been canceled, limiting the opportunities. One team, at least, will get in the playoff and/or New Year’s Six games — likely Ohio State and Indiana — which leaves five more bowl games. The records will shake out over the last two games, but there will, no doubt, be a deserving team or two left out.

Gabe Brown (44) should be part of Michigan State's starting lineup for the 2021-22 season.

Q. At this point...best case starting five next year? — @midwestfamily

A. We’re already on to next year? OK, I suppose we’ll take a shot at it, but this is an absolute guess considering we have no idea what happens with Emoni Bates and Enoch Boakye, two players who have committed to the 2022 class but could still reclassify to 2021. Let’s assume right now that neither opts for that path and Michigan State’s class is limited to Max Christie, Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks. Of course, that’s just one variable. Who comes back from the current roster is also a question, so let’s assume, for now, that Aaron Henry is gone, as well as Joey Hauser.

My guess for the opening-game lineup would be Rocket Watts, Christie, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and we’ll go with Julius Marble. I’d expect Akins and Brooks to both get plenty of work early, and it will be interesting to see how A.J. Hoggard progresses this year. Same goes for Mady Sissoko. I wouldn’t count him out in the battle to start. If Bates ends up at MSU next year — that seems like a longshot — he’d be in, too.

Q. Are we going to start seeing more (Malik) Hall and (Julius) Marble and less (Thomas) Kithier and (Marcus) Bingham? I understand keeping them fresh and ready if foul trouble, etc., but they have not had nearly the impact as Hall and Marble. — @RandyCheadle

A. I wouldn’t lump Hall in with the other three because Hall really isn’t playing the center spot. In fact, Hall is getting more minutes by not only rotating with Hauser, but joining Hauser in a smaller lineup with Hauser at center. I’d focus this discussion on the other three and tell you that you should expect this to be the plan for most of the season. There are certain matchups that benefit Bingham while others benefit Marble. And Kithier is the solid guy that does everything well but nothing spectacular. In other words, you don’t often worry about him messing up. So strap in, that position will continue to be a roller coaster, especially as Tom Izzo attempts to get some minutes for Sissoko.

Q. How do we get Foster Loyer shooting again? I know the other team is guarding him closely. I like it when Rocket and Loyer are on the floor together, opens things up. —@TimothyDonley

A. If defenses do a good job of clogging up the passing lanes and getting in Loyer’s face, it becomes tough for him to get a lot of shots. If Michigan State is moving the ball well, getting inside and out, that starts to create some more opportunities for Loyer. He needs that because he’ll never create his own shot the way Watts can. Zone defenses are perfect for Loyer because he can spot up and shoot, but the Spartans don’t see that all the time. So, keep swinging the ball from side to side, look to get in the post and kick it out for some open looks. He’ll get some of those, but let’s not assume he’ll suddenly be getting more than a handful of shots per game.

Q. How is Josh Langford’s knee holding up? Will Sissoko get more minutes? — @SpartyH

A. So far, Langford is doing well. The game off against Detroit Mercy was simply Izzo following the plan he made before the season about being smart with Langford. The good news is he’s not had any issues with is foot and he bounced back to play 23 minutes against Western Michigan. At this point, all is well. As for Sissoko, yes, I’d expect Izzo to try and get him a few more minutes, especially early in games like he did on Sunday against Western Michigan.

Q. Matt, what's it like for you and other media when football and basketball seasons intersect? You had basketball game Friday, football Saturday and more basketball Sunday. — @daveholz

A. It’s always a little crazy when the two sports overlap, something that happens every season. But that’s usually only heavy in November and tapers off by December. This year, though, is a whole new ballgame with football going well into December. Yeah, it can be a grind, but to be honest, it’s better than nothing to cover at all. I feel like fans are in the same boat — this is far better than nothing, so you figure out how to get it done. I just need to make sure I don’t call Rocky Lombardi a point guard and Rocket Watts a running back.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau