This is the first in a series of assessments on each position for Michigan State football.
An onslaught of headlines, hype and Heisman trophy winner predictions can only mean one thing: college football is right around the corner.
Spartan Nation is jubilated to return to East Lansing to see Michigan State kick off a new chapter of Spartan Football, eyeballing back-to-back Big Ten Championships and reclaiming a spot in the College Football Playoff.
With the 2016 season closing in, we thought it would be great idea to fill you Spartan fanatics in on what to expect for the upcoming year. One by one, we are each going to provide our objective breakdown of every position along with a final grade.
The biggest mystery weighing on everyone’s mind: who will be the leading signal caller in the season opener against Furman? So we’ll start by evaluating the Spartan quarterbacks.
Andy Chmura: @andy_chmura
According to Mark Dantonio, MSU’s quarterback race will be fought among Tyler O’Connor, Damion Terry, Brian Lewerke and Messiah deWeaver. Of course, this is a typical “coach” response, so let’s just assume that this is a two-man race between O’Connor and Terry. Let’s also assume that the winner will be O’Connor. This leaves O’Connor as the starter, Terry on second string, Lewerke on third string and deWeaver likely redshirted.
Replacing Connor Cook, the winningest quarterback in MSU history, is not exactly an easy task. But if there is one man up for the challenge, it is Tyler O’Connor. Although we have seen little of O’Connor in action, it is difficult to neglect his success in 2015 during Cook’s vacancy, primarily in Columbus where he led the Spartans to a victory over favored Ohio State. The stakes were sky-high in this matchup, but O’Connor’s leadership put MSU in the driver’s seat for a Big Ten title and eventual playoff berth.
O’Connor has proven to be a strikingly accurate pocket passer, much like Cook. But unlike Cook, O’Connor has excellent mobility. He also has outstanding vision and a high quarterback IQ. He has the skillset to get it done both on the ground and in the air, causing a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. Combine O’Connor’s dominant play against the Buckeyes with a solid showing in MSU’s spring game, and there is no reason to believe that the Spartans will have much difficulty transitioning from the Connor Cook era to the Tyler O’Connor era.
Mark Dantonio is possibly the best coach in all of college football for developing talent. Combine that with the fact that O’Connor spent the past four years learning the playbook under the Dantonio system, and one can understand why opposing defenses should be frightened of Tyler O’Connor. This man is every bit as talented as Cook, and was even rated higher as an incoming recruit. His only downfall is a limited amount of in-game experience. With an early road game against Notre Dame, this downfall should be of concern. Still, under what will likely be a run-heavy offense, there is no reason to believe that the fifth-year senior’s inexperience will be too massive of a con for the Spartans.
After being Connor Cook’s back-up for his entire career, Tyler O’Connor will most likely be given the keys to the Spartan offense. Thanks to shadowing Cook for the past three years, along with his pinpoint accuracy and excellent decision making, the fifth-year senior holds a decisive advantage over his competitors.
O’Connor has verified himself to be more than just a game manager by taking over in Cook’s absence against No. 2 Ohio State last season, leading the Spartans to a historic 17-14 victory. He did a great job of consistently surveying the field and making accurate reads while effectively running the option with his outstanding vision. My main concern is his resiliency when he is called upon to throw the ball 30-50 times in a game. The good news is is that he performed very well in the annual MSU Green-White spring game.
Don’t be surprised to find redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke ahead of junior Damion Terry on the depth chart. Lewerke will reserve the back-up role because of his great composure. He also showcased his strong arm and exceptional scrambling ability as a pocket passer in the spring game.
Unlike Lewerke, Terry does not exhibit those passing qualities as well as a quarterback should. But what makes him so special is the useful running traits that he possesses. He reminds me of Cardale Jones with his immense 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame. Both are powerful runners with a craving of trucking defenders, utilizing their tremendous size and stature. Terry, however, needs to quickly add the passing dimension to his game in order to stay alive in the quarterback race. It is too predictable for opposing defenses when the Pennsylvanian enters the game. He also has ball security issues that he needs to clean up, evidenced by his two fumbles in the spring game.
Despite most likely being redshirted, the buildup for true freshman Messiah deWeaver is spreading like wildfire in East Lansing. He showed us why he is the future face of the Michigan State program, displaying his pure mobility as well as his beautiful touch passes. The dual-threat sensation did a delightful job of sustaining drives in the spring game, especially as an early enrollee.
O’Connor is the prime candidate right now, but Dantonio emphasized during MSU media day how identifying the starter is a day-by-day process.
“But as I’ve said before, we’re going to allow things to progress naturally with that position,” Dantonio said at MSU Football media day. “But he’s our leader right now, our headline guy at the quarterback position. We’re going to play it out.”
The last time the Spartans had to replace a quarterback legend was in 2012. Kirk Cousins graduated and his successor, Andrew Maxwell, guided the green and white to a mediocre 6-6 (3-5 Big Ten) regular season record. Quarterbacks coach Brad Salem must be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself this time around.