Hello, Dear Reader. It is I, AustinCSmith, and it has been far too long since we have seen one another (that is unless you follow me on Twitter @acsmith06. Shameless plug number one, baby. WE ARE BACK). You look well.
I know what you're thinking: if he's writing again there must be football in the air. Dear Reader, you are correct and doesn't it feel good? Knowing what lies only a month ahead, and just how many new faces will be in the fold, it's about time we started previewing what the 2016 Michigan State Football team will look like.
We'll start with the most important position on the field, Quarterback.
Connor Cook (Graduation - Selected in 4th Round of the NFL Draft by Oakland)
The Spartans have to replace the best quarterback to ever play in East Lansing. There's no sugarcoating it, that sucks.
Cook was a driving force behind one of the best periods in program history winning the Rose, Cotton and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowls and leading his team to the 2016 College Football Playoff. He left MSU with a 34-5 career record and holds numerous school passing records. The list of big plays he made is incredibly long but does make for a fun day on YouTube (I recommend MSUAndyHRCMB). All without being a captain in 2015!
Losing a player like Cook would be tough for any program and should rightfully make fans nervous.
WELL, THAT'S BLEAK. WHO'S STILL HERE?
Tyler O'Connor (R-Sr), Damion Terry (R-Jr), Brian Lewerke (R-Fr), Messiah deWeaver (Fr)
There is, however, a lot to be optimistic about both in the short and long term.
The farthest down the road are Brian Lewerke and Messiah deWeaver but each has gotten rave reviews thus far. Lewerke drew a comparison to $20-million-dollar-man Kirk Cousins from the MSU staff two years ago when he signed, and some think deWeaver might be most talented QB of the Dantonio regime. There's a ways to go but the farm system is loaded.
O'Connor, Terry and Lewerke will all get reps in the first few games but 2016 should be a two-horse between upperclassmen Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry. There is a lot to like about that scenario.
Both have plenty of exposure to the playbook and theoretically should have some rapport with teammates who they've been on the practice squad with for years. More importantly, they have both taken snaps and won on the biggest stage, each playing huge roles in the unlikely win at Ohio State a year ago.
OK, I FEEL A BIT BETTER BUT WHO IS "THE GUY"?
Eventually, Dantonio will have to choose between the two and the smart money is on O'Connor. He represents the safe choice which, personnel-wise, is the one Dantonio tends to make.
You can all the way back to when he played Danny Fortener over Trenton Robinson -- deep cuts, y'all -- or more recently Kirk Cousins over Keith Nichol and *gulp* Andrew Maxwell over Connor Cook. Dantonio has proven that when faced with the choice he will go with what he perceives to be the more consistent player.
O'Connor has been that in his limited game action and was given a lion's share of the snaps during Cook's absence a year ago. While he can and will move he doesn't rely on his athleticism to get him out of trouble. He isn't flashy, but appears to be reliable.
On the other hand, Terry has the explosiveness to make a serious case for the starting gig. He is unquestionably the better athlete and has shown tantalizing flashes of both arm and leg talent. The offense is going to need help creating big plays especially through the air, since the main sources of those from last year -- Cook and Aaron Burbridge -- are in the NFL. In all likelihood, the offense would generate explosive plays with Terry under center more often than with O'Connor, they just might not come around as often as you'd like.
Ultimately, I would expect O'Connor to win the job and get a pretty decent leash but should the offense sputter — like, say, on the road in South Bend — the load might start to shift Terry's way.
While neither of these quarterbacks are stars both should be capable of playing winning football and MSU has won a lot of games over the last decade without getting superstar quarterback play. They should be in a position to do so again in 2016 and you can't ask for much more when it comes to replacing a legend.