- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- As the starting quarterback for the nation's 95th ranked offense, Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell understands why he's in the crosshairs.
More arrows fly in his direction than, say, the wide receivers who drop passes or the offensive linemen who didn't generate enough push in the red zone. That's just the way it goes. And Maxwell owns it.
"I look at myself and say, 'Were there areas I could improve?' Sure," Maxwell said. "Seeing just how those little things can result in a loss, can result in a 7-6 season, I realize and this whole team realizes that there's no room for that."
Maxwell knows that if he retains his starting job -- hardly a guarantee at this stage, as Connor Cook continues to push him -- he'll absorb the brunt of the credit or blame for how the unit performs this season. The accountability scale outside the program always leans more toward the head coach, the offensive coordinator and the quarterback.
But inside the program, Maxwell, as a team leader, wants to create a balance of accountability as Michigan State seeks to improve upon a disappointing season in 2012.
"I told my lift group, 'When you step over the white line and onto the practice field, you've got to realize everything we do is business,'" Maxwell told ESPN.com. "Accountability has to come before friendship. Accountability has to come before somebody's feelings. That's going to help us with the little details, the little inches.
"If we can create a culture of accountability and have players hold players responsible, we'll be a lot better suited to find those inches and those details."
Maxwell tried to take the same approach last season, but was hesitant to demand accountability.
"It's your first year and a lot of guys you're playing with had been there before," he said. "Whether I consciously made that decision or not, looking back, certainly there were some areas where every one of us could have done a better job of doing that."
Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio never has doubted Maxwell's ability to be accountable. His maturity and two years as Kirk Cousins' understudy put him in a good spot to step in as the starter last season.
But a player gains greater perspective after he's "in the soup," as Dantonio puts it. And Maxwell found himself there more often than not in 2012, when he completed just 52.5 percent of his pass attempts. Although Maxwell's overall passing numbers (2,606 yards, 13 touchdowns, nine interceptions) put him in the middle of the pack of the pass-challenged Big Ten, Michigan State finished 108th nationally in scoring and dropped five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points.
"There are stress points," Dantonio said. "A young person who's 20 or 21 yards old is often times critiqued when things don't quite as well. It's hard to identify who that offensive guard was, but everybody knows who the quarterback is. He gets more than his share of the praise, certainly, but he gets his share of the criticism, also.
"He understands that's part of the deal, having gone through this once. He's been able to refocus and recenter himself, and now he gets to start over perse, begin fresh and right the ship a little bit."
Teammates noticed a change in Maxwell during spring practice.
"Definitely stronger, definitely stronger," Spartans offensive tackle Fou Fonoti said. "He uses all that pressure that he's under and turns it into constructive criticism. He has a new demeanor about him. He just wants to get out there and go. I'm excited to see that rage in his heart, that fire in heart. It should be exciting."
Maxwell is clear about last season -- "When you go 7-6, certainly that's no one's goal" -- but the adversity seems to have shifted his perspective as a leader.
"I do feel like I have a little extra fire, a little extra passion for it this year," he said. "That's what you need to be successful."