I'll admit, I sort of assumed that the wide receiver situation this year was going to be one where no individual stood out but the group was solid as a whole; a corps of Aaron Burbridge, Josiah Price, Macgarrett Kings, and R.J. Shelton seemed solid if unspectacular. It wasn't going to be easy to fill the shoes of Tony Lippett.
I'm happy to say that I was completely wrong. After becoming a near-instant contributor as a true freshman in 2012, Burbridge did not appear to be emerging from a crowded receiving corps which featured Lippett, Keith Mumphery, and Bennie Fowler. But after three games in 2015, Aaron Burbridge leads the Big Ten in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and is second in receptions. Per Bill Connelly's advanced stats, Burbridge has been targeted 35.4% of the time when Connor Cook drops back to pass; that's also the largest percentage in the Big Ten. Though Burbridge averages 18.7 yards per catch (an impressive figure by itself) he also catches two-thirds of the balls thrown to him. You'll have to trust me when I say that's impressive, too. Oh, and this (start at 22 seconds in):
And though I've been somewhat critical of Connor Cook, his statline is impressive as well. Cook is third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, second in passing efficiency, and boasts an 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio alongside 8.1 yards per attempt. That's also coming against the third-most difficult schedule thus fan in the Big Ten, going by Jeff Sagarin's ratings. Cook might be frustrating at times, but he's nearly always gotten the results.
Two things stand out to me about the Cook-to-Burbridge combination. First, Burbridge has 53.8 percent of all of passing yards this season for Michigan State. That's 374 yards out of 695 total. Second, despite that apparent reliance, MSU is significantly more successful passing the ball (success 47.6% of the time, per Connelly) than running the ball (success 37.5% of the time). Perhaps that has something to do with the offensive line's strength, but it's still odd. Nationally, running success rates are on average higher than passing success rates.
It'll also be interesting to see how Cook and Burbridge respond to additional attention being paid to the duo in conference play. But for now, they're setting themselves apart.