Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Spring QB battles: Michigan State
By Brian Bennett
Spring practice will soon be upon us, and while there will be several story lines to follow throughout the Big Ten, nothing makes for as much juicy news as a quarterback battle.
Several league teams will open up the competition for playing time under center this spring. With that in mind, we thought we'd break down each of the looming QB battles on tap throughout the conference. First up: the Michigan State Spartans.
Incumbent (2012 stats): Andrew Maxwell, senior (2,606 passing yards on 52.5 percent completions, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions)
Spring challengers: Connor Cook, sophomore; Tyler O'Connor, redshirt freshman
Summer contender: Damion Terry, incoming freshman
The skinny: Maxwell was handed the reins after Kirk Cousins graduated last year with the thought that he would spend his final two seasons as the Spartans' starter. And he did start all 13 games last year. But he didn't progress as hoped, and his accuracy suffered late in the season as Michigan State had all kinds of problems in the passing game for most of the year. Things came to a head in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU when head coach Mark Dantonio, as planned, gave Cook some early reps in the game. What was unexpected was how much Maxwell scuffled while Cook provided a modest but welcome spark. The youngster finished out the game and led the team on its game-winning drive with Maxwell on the sidelines, adding sudden intrigue to the Spartans' spring.
Dantonio said in January that Maxwell remains the No. 1 quarterback going into the spring, but it's clear that there will be an open competition for the job. Cook has more of a gunslinger's mentality and must prove that he can avoid big mistakes. O'Connor was a well-regarded recruit who spent his redshirt year learning the system. He's still got a lot of ground to make up. The wild card is Terry, a prized signee who brings something different to the table with his ability to run. But it's hard to imagine Dantonio giving the keys to the offense to a true freshman who won't arrive on campus until this summer.
Prediction: Much depends on where Maxwell's confidence is this spring. He seems like a very self-assured player, but he also spent an entire season watching receivers drop catchable balls, getting chased around because of a leaky offensive line, hearing catcalls from fans and finally seeing himself benched in a bowl game. So who knows how exactly he responds to that. The good news is that, unlike last offseason when he was really the only viable candidate, he will get true competition this year, which should make him better. Cook brings some serious momentum into spring ball and may well be the fan favorite. But he'll have to outplay Maxwell to earn the job. A likely scenario would see Maxwell at least nominally remaining No. 1 into the summer, while the competition continues into fall camp with Terry joining the mix.