Michigan State football's 5 most important players for 2023 season

Michigan State football at this time last year was coming off an 11-2 season, capped off with a comeback win against Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl.
The Spartans had their starting quarterback and two best receivers returning from an offense that was cooking by the end of the 2021 season. Momentum was high.
The landscape has completely changed as MSU enters the 2023 season.
Two-year starting quarterback Payton Thorne transferred to Auburn, leaving the Spartans without a clear starter at the most important position. Shortly after, Keon Coleman, arguably MSU's best player transferred as well, settling at Florida State.
The departures allow a fresh start after a 5-7 record in 2022 that left MSU bowl-less for the second time in three seasons under coach Mel Tucker, after a run of 12 bowls in 13 seasons under former coach Mark Dantonio.
And with that comes a great chance to reevaluate the Spartans' roster. So let's take a look at the five most important players to this year's MSU football team (with a reminder — the most important players are not necessarily the best):
No. 5: WR Tre Mosley
It looked like receiver might be the strength of this team before Coleman announced he was taking his talents to Tallahassee. Now it's one of the more unproven units.
Mosley has been surrounded by great receivers over the past few years. In 2021, the Spartans had Jalen Nailor (drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round this April), Jayden Reed (second round to Green Bay Packers) and Coleman, a talented freshman. But Mosley proved he deserved to be on the field as well, picking up 35 catches, 530 yards and three touchdowns. Last year, Mosley had the same amount of catches, but significantly fewer yards (359).
The Spartans will need a lot more from him this year.
Every player in this position group will be asked to do more than anticipated a few months ago.
Montorie Foster is entering his fourth year at MSU with 262 career receiving yards and two touchdowns. Southfield native Christian Fitzpatrick played his freshman year at Louisville in 2020 before transferring to MSU. Over two seasons, he has just four receptions, with last season cut short after five games following surgery for a sports hernia. Alante Brown comes to MSU after transferring from Nebraska, where he had 16 catches and 191 yards for the Cornhuskers last year. Redshirt freshman Antonio Gates Jr. brings a lot of hype based on his name alone, but he's an exciting prospect who should get opportunities.
They all have much to prove. As the most experienced returning wideout, Mosley may be asked to carry a heavy load, especially with a young quarterback taking over.
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No. 4: S Jaden Mangham
The Birmingham Groves alumnus has major shoes to fill.
Safety Xavier Henderson was a leader on and off the field for the Spartans. He returned to MSU for a fifth season and was injured in the opener against Western Michigan. Despite being a true freshman, it became clear quickly Mangham was next in line.
Henderson returned midway through the season, but Mangham made the first start of his career against Maryland and played in nine games despite battling his own injury. The defensive play-calling will fall on Mangham's shoulders with Henderson graduated. A tall task for Mangham, who has a slender build for the position (175 pounds). The Spartans also need him to be the leader of their defense. At least he'll get to suit up with his brother, Jared, a running back who transferred from South Florida this offseason.
No. 3: LB Jacoby Windmon
Windmon was dominant early in the season after transferring from UNLV.
In his first game against Western Michigan, he picked up four sacks. In his second game against Akron, he had three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery plus 1½ sacks. But he failed to register another sack the rest of the season, which was cut short by four games for his involvement in the Michigan Stadium tunnel incident.
Albeit against easier competition, the Spartans' defense went as Windmon did early on, allowing just 13 points in the first game and zero against Akron.
Over the next four games combined, Windmon had 14 tackles, including two for loss, and MSU allowed an average of 37.3 points per game against FBS-level foes.
But that's just part of the story. After the four straight losses, the Spartans decided to abandon some of their 4-2-5 principles and start using more of a 4-3 defense, making the switch against Wisconsin. Windmon moved from defensive end to linebacker, the position he played at UNLV, and had 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and won his third Big Ten defensive player of the week award. He had 12 tackles the next week against the Wolverines in his final game.
If the Spartans can continue to carve out a role where Windmon can succeed, watch out.
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No. 2: Offensive line
If you want to know why MSU has failed to be as consistent as it was in the heyday of the Dantonio era, look no further than the offensive line.
Since Jack Conklin was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the first round in 2016, only two Spartan offensive linemen have been picked: Brian Allen (fourth round, 2018) and AJ Arcuri (seventh round, 2022).
MSU has never been an offensive line factory, but having players capable of making the next level was a selling point for Tucker when he came to Michigan State. He wanted bigger, stronger, NFL-type guys at those positions, but that has yet to take shape.
As the Spartans' offensive line tries to take a step forward, it will be many of the same names competing for snaps. J.D. Duplain represented the line at Big Ten media days in Indianapolis, a strong indication he will be one of the leaders and get major playing time. Nick Samac has started 22 games, including all 12 at center last year for MSU. There is strong buzz about Keyshawn Blackstock, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound junior college transfer, but he has yet to prove it on this level.
It's nearly impossible to put out a consistent offensive product without strong offensive line play. With a new quarterback, inexperienced receivers and question marks at running back, MSU needs the line to lead this unit.
No. 1: QB Noah Kim
Although the Spartans haven't announced a starting QB, Kim is the logical replacement for Thorne.
This will be his fourth season on campus; although he was one of Dantonio's final recruits, he has spent his entire career with Tucker.
Kim played in only mop-up duty last season, but during four blowouts (two when the Spartans were winning and two where they were losing) he completed 14 of 19 passes with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
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It's important for Michigan State to figure out what it has with the quarterback position. Kim will face a challenge from former four-star prospect Katin Houser, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman and Tucker recruit.
The window to prove oneself in college football can be incredibly small. All opportunities are not created equally and Kim will have to perform early and often this season even if he wins the job.
If he does, the staff can spend more time and resources developing other parts of the roster that need help.

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