Alright, so biases aside... Is Maxwell that bad?
Let me first say that I want who ever is best for the job to start - and that isn't necessarily who has the most talent, but who is truly the best person to start. So I am not sitting here hoping Maxwell ends up being the starter - I want who is best for the job. This is simply a post about why I think Maxwell could be the best person for the job, and I am not infallible. I also think that regardless of who starts - at least one other QB should play early - and enough to truly compare the starter to the other player(s). I don't think the fact that Maxwell is a Senior should be weighed in the decision making process - but perhaps his experience - along with the issues that can befall a first year starter (MSU hasn't had the greatest luck with first year starters). Knowledge of the system should come into play - but I would think having a year of learning the system - or intensely quick learning of the system for a first year player allowing them to have that level of knowledge will do.
So, here are the facts of Maxwell's last season:
MSU had a 7-6 season - (historically not bad for a first year starter at MSU.) Maxwell completed 53% of his passes to throw for 2,606 yards (4th in the Big Ten), 13 touchdowns and 9 Interceptions. He averaged ≈196 yards of total offense per game. Despite the teams 7-6 record MSU lost 5 games by a grand total of 13 points. They lost 6 games by 33 points - which still averages under a TD per game (an average of 5.5 points per loss).
On paper, the numbers aren't bad - particularly for a first year starter. He was roughly the 4th best QB in the Big Ten last season. By comparison to most MSU QB's first seasons - it's pretty good. However, by comparison to the previous two seasons it was tawdry, at best. Which brings me to this point: We have been spoiled by Cousin's performance and MSU's success in 2010 and 2011; but consider this: Cousin's first season ended with a 6-7 record. It's not bad to have high expectations for a team, and as fans we want MSU to have 11+ win seasons every year - as well as to be competing for the Big Ten Title - but surely, every team has a rebuilding year from time to time. Which brings me to my next point: Cousins went 6-7 with talented wide outs at his disposal. His line was probably better due to the number of injuries on the offensive line in 2012. Many of our best players - with the exception of the O-line on offense were gone after 2011. It was a rebuilding year for the wide receivers, and it was an unlucky year for our offensive line.
The drops the plagued the wide receivers really hurt our offense last season, and several of the wide outs who played admitted to not knowing which routes they should run on some plays. These two things hurt Maxwell considerably. How can he go through his progressions if the wide outs run the wrong route? How can he get more touchdowns and first downs when his wide outs continuously drop the ball? Considering this, aren't his numbers from last year quite amazing? What about the play calling last season? Will improved play calling lead to an improved season?
I have one other point about his stats last season. 9 Interceptions - at least 3 of which, remembering from direct observation, were directly due to dropped passes being deflected into defender hands. So, let's place that at 6 interceptions that were actually his fault (and it may have been even less). That is impressive. If Dantonio's strategy is to take care of the football and play field position, then Maxwell did spectacular, as he rarely turned the ball over. That is a pretty big deal.
Personally, I think that this year, MSU's defense will be just as good. With a better offensive line, at least one running back will have a good year, and with more experienced receivers who can catch the ball - MSU's pocket passer, Maxwell will have a great year. I think that there is a serious shot for MSU to get to the Rose Bowl, and should MSU remain far luckier than last season when it comes to injuries, then they may, like OSU under Tressel be playing not to lose - and if you are playing not to lose, the last thing you want is to turn the ball over, and in that case Maxwell is the guy for the job.
If injuries befall the offensive line again this year, and there aren't enough capable back ups again, then Maxwell will likely not be the best player for the job - in which case the job should be who ever can create the most out of nothing while not turning the ball over excessively.
I will note, however, that at many times last season, Maxwell had no throwing speed other than "fast". It seemed as if he lacked touch, and this may have led to drops. However, that speed helped him avoid interceptions, and often he put it where it needed to be. Hopefully he has learned how to throw a pass with a little more touch.
My final point is this:
To be in the conference championship - so long as the defense is just as good or better than it was last season, all MSU has to do is improve it's offense marginally ever so slightly. One more touchdown, on average, per game will do it. Experience does count for something, and historically, the second year that a QB at MSU starts, they have a better season. I think MSU could get that extra touchdown per game out of less drops by wide receivers, and Maxwell may truly be the best person for the job.