Every college program has to replace key veterans and stars on an annual basis in the spring. This week we’re taking a look at which outgoing players are leaving behind the biggest shoes to fill at each Big Ten program.
Next up is Michigan State. The Spartans senior-laden roster made it to the College Football Playoff last fall. Coach Mark Dantonio has been able to upgrade the depth and talent in East Lansing thanks in part to what this outgoing class accomplished. Now those replacements have some work to do in order to keep momentum rolling in the same direction.
B1G shoes to fill: Quarterback Connor Cook
Why: Cook piloted Michigan State’s offense to a 34-5 record during his three seasons as a starter. Some pro scouts consider him the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s draft, a resume line he earned by operating a pro-style offense and making clutch throws throughout the 2015 season. The Spartans have to replace three talented offensive linemen and the best receiver in the Big Ten this spring, but the biggest piece of the puzzle will be finding the next guy to step in for Cook.
The skinny: O’Connor begins the spring as the leader of this competition. He and Terry have a leg up on the younger QBs, having both played last season, including splitting time in an upset win over Ohio State when Cook was injured. O’Connor was considered a team leader despite his backup role last season. Terry (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) is the better athlete. Lewerke and DeWeaver, an early enrollee this spring, were both good grabs on the recruiting trail and haven’t been counted out from the competition yet.
B1G shoes to fill: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun
Why: Calhoun is one of three defensive linemen leaving Michigan State who deserve mention. He, along with Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas, helped to form a group that controlled the line of scrimmage against every opponent they faced in 2015 (even Alabama had a harder-than-usual time running the ball in the Cotton Bowl beatdown). Calhoun leaves the programs with 27 sacks -- 10.5 of them came last year -- and three consecutive first-team All-Big Ten mentions. He was also an outspoken captain who kept his teammates loose before high-pressure games.
The skinny: Cooper and Jones are at the top of the depth chart to start spring practice. Cooper picked up five sacks in an expanded role during his second season on the field. Sweat was suspended for most of the 2015 season but could take one of the starting spots if he stays in the coaching staff's good graces. McDowell is expected to be one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the Big Ten, if not the country, next season. He should be able to help make up for some of Calhoun’s production while playing at the tackle position.