What will MSU do? 2 predictions on the Spartans' quarterback race
MSU’s starting quarterback in 2013 has remained a mystery from the moment the Spartans beat TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last December.
Connor Cook, a redshirt freshman at the time, supplanted then-junior starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell and led MSU on the late drive that resulted in the game-winning field goal.
Cook wasn’t spectacular in the bowl game, and Maxwell was worse. But Cook made the plays people remember from that game, and instantly a controversy was birthed.
Throughout spring practice, Maxwell appeared to be a strong frontrunner to retain the job as redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor joined the fray. But Cook outperformed Maxwell in the spring game, keeping himself in the mix.
Enter fall camp and a fourth competitor, true freshman Damion Terry, has come into the picture. Many assumed Terry was destined for a redshirt year, but a standout scrimmage that left coaches and players alike impressed with his ability placed him legitimately into the discussion.
With head coach Mark Dantonio set to announce his starters for the Western Michigan game tomorrow, State News football reporters Stephen Brooks and Dillon Davis offer their take on MSU’s quarterback situation.
What MSU should do: If this is my team, I’m making the first three games (Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State) an open tryout for the foursome.
Clearly none of them have stood out from the pack enough during either spring ball or fall camp to earn the unquestioned support of the coaches, so I’d just throw them to the fire and see what happens. Each of them have their flaws and strengths, so I’d throw them out there and let them prove themselves in games as opposed to the practice field. Give each guy a quarter, or a certain amount of series — however you want to do it, but settle it with performances on the field against three cupcakes.
For 2013, I personally think Cook gives MSU a higher ceiling than presumed favorite Maxwell. O’Connor still isn’t well versed enough in the offense yet from what Dantonio has said, and Terry is a year of learning behind him. I saw Maxwell show glimpses of a great player at times last season, and at other times I wanted to cringe. After a full off-season of competition and questions about his job, I think it’s legitimate to wonder if his confidence is shaken. I do believe Maxwell can lead this team to double-digit wins, honestly. But at this point, before we have seen any game action in 2013, I trust Cook to make the plays MSU needed to get over the hump so many times a year ago.
As for Terry, a highly-anticipated dual-threat prospect, if coaches think he provides the best option for MSU to win in 2014 and beyond, I’d strongly consider creating a unique package that utilizes his mobility to get him in the game, get some hits on him and get his feet wet in real competition. Not only does it give MSU’s offense another weapon and adds another dynamic for teams to prepare for, but it makes for a more seasoned Terry next season if the coaches feel that he is their guy going forward.
What MSU will do: Despite votes of confidence for all four from Dantonio, I’ve viewed this competition as a two-man race between Maxwell and Cook the entire time.
It’s nearly guaranteed Maxwell will be named the starter against Western Michigan. Expect all four to get action through the first three games, but Maxwell will get the first crack to prove he should keep the job.
If 2012 proved anything, it’s that experience can’t be overlooked, and Maxwell is the only candidate with experience in abundance. He had an inconsistent season as a junior, but not everything fell on his plate. The former four-star recruit dealt with wide receivers who weren’t catching balls and an offensive line decimated by injuries and fluid rotations, which compounded his struggles as a first-year starter. Many are quick to forget former standout Kirk Cousins wasn’t an instant star when he took the reigns under center, either.
Maxwell showed flashes of greatness last season, they were just inconsistent. If he can take a step forward with a year under his belt, I think Maxwell becomes Dantonio’s man for the second consecutive year because he presents the lowest risk option. As a disciple of the Jim Tressel coaching tree, Dantonio would rather have a low-risk offense and rely on the Spartans’ dominating defense. Unlike a year ago, though, there are viable alternatives to Maxwell, so perhaps coaches give him a shorter leash in 2013.
My prediction is Maxwell starts the entire season, assuming he outplays his competition through the first three games.
What MSU will do: Unless Dantonio experiences a tectonic shift of talent by one of the contenders, Maxwell is the man for the job.
The senior quarterback has the benefit of starting 13 games in 2012. And although most of his starts weren’t exactly stellar, there were a lot of factors other than Maxwell — most notably, wide receiver drops and injuries to the offensive line — that sank the Spartans in a disappointing 7-6 campaign.
The Spartans return a more experienced receiving corps in 2013 led by senior Bennie Fowler, junior Keith Mumphery and sophomore Aaron Burbridge, who should assist in Maxwell’s progression.
Another major factor for Maxwell will be the promotion of Dave Warner to the team’s co-offensive coordinator — a position he’ll share with former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. Warner previously served six seasons as MSU’s quarterbacks coach and likely will be an asset in putting Maxwell in a position for success.
However, Maxwell isn’t untouchable.
If Maxwell struggles or the team stumbles out of the gate, expect Dantonio to move along and look ahead to 2014 by throwing Cook into the mix.
Although the four quarterbacks competing for the main job all are capable of holding it, it’s always been a two-man race between Maxwell and Cook with the intention of keeping O’Connor and Terry in the mix in the interest of competition. O’Connor and Terry will have their shot, but it likely won’t be this season.
What MSU should do: Before making the decision, Dantonio has a number of factors to consider.
Who commands the most respect in the lockerroom or down in the huddle? Who can best handle the praise and criticism of being a Division I quarterback? And if there’s two minutes left with the game on the line, who can you trust to lead the team to victory?
With that in mind, the right pick seems to be Cook.
Many fans and members of the media will point to Cook’s game-winning drive against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl a season ago — a notion that’s been over-analyzed given the small sample size it represents in the full scope of the season.
But Cook displays the skills and the personality to handle the position well where Maxwell faltered in 2012. He’s poised, he’s confident and he said he’s hungry to prove himself the worthy starter for the Spartans.
Make no mistake, Maxwell is a talented quarterback with a lot of intangibles and he holds the benefit of the doubt when it comes to experience.
But there’s a definitive reason Maxwell wasn’t able to nail down the starting job during fall camp when, for all intents and purposes, the job should have been his to lose. Given the talented stable of Cook, O’Connor and Terry, Maxwell couldn’t pull away from the pack and that doesn’t bode well for him.
And instead of knocking Maxwell, I think it’s more a testament to Cook, who has demonstrated a strong will to start along with some confidence coming from his summer with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.
Maxwell likely will start until he proves himself unworthy. But if I’m MSU, I’m taking a chance on the strong arm of Cook to lead me in 2013.