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20 transfers can help Michigan State Spartans football team turn it around

Michigan State quarterback Anthony Russo runs to his position during a Spartans’ spring scrimmage in East Lansing on April 24. (AP file photo)

By LARRY LAGE

AP Sports Writer

EAST LANSING — Mel Tucker is entering his second season at Michigan State. Even though Tucker is not a rookie with the Spartans, it seems as if he’s starting over.

Tucker was hired away from Colorado 18 months ago and endured a pandemic-shortened season with a 2-5 record.

The Spartans added a slew of transfers, including five from SEC programs, aiming for a quick turnaround.

“It’s like a new team,” running back Connor Heyward acknowledged.

Tucker has told the players — returning and newcomers — that jobs are open and playing time will be determined by highly competitive practices.

“We’re finding out who can help us,” Tucker said. “If it’s not on the tape, it doesn’t exist.”

Every college football team had challenges competing during the pandemic last season, but it was particularly difficult for the Spartans because their new coach was hired just before the program was shuttered for months.

When Michigan State began to practice for the 2020 season only to stop and resume preparations, it just added to the obstacles.

“It felt very rushed last season,” offensive tackle offensive tackle AJ Arcuri said.

With a chance to do face-to-face recruiting this year, Tucker has been able to attract talented prospects with a sales pitch that draws on the success the program had under coach Mark Dantonio.

“Two teams in the Big Ten have been to the college football playoff, and we’re one of those two,” Tucker said he tells recruits.

QB QUESTIONS

Tucker has two options for a starting quarterback, Temple graduate transfer Anthony Russo and redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Russo is a pocket passer, who started 26 times and played in 31 games for the Owls over the previous three years. He’s a risk-re

ward player with 44 passing touchdowns and 32 interceptions.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Thorne gives Tucker an option with more mobility. He played in four games last season, starting one, and threw three touchdowns as three interceptions for the Spartans.

Tucker said he doesn’t plan to rotate quarterbacks when the games begin.

TON OF TRANSFERS

Russo is one of 20 transfers, many projected to make an instant impact.

Former Wake Forest running back Kenneth Walker and ex-Tennessee linebacker Quavaris Crouch are among the newcomers expected to play key roles.

ON THE MOVE

Heyward is part of a talented group of running backs and might create some playing time for himself, and others, by lining up as a tight end at times.

“He’s a versatile player,” Tucker said. “He can do many things.”