MSU returns key offensive starters

After the 2012 season, the question marks for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and his offensive staff were obvious.

Who would be the starting quarterback? Who would be the go-to receivers? Would someone be able to replace running back Le’Veon Bell?

Some of those questions stretched through fall camp and into the 2013 season.

But now, just over a week after its victory in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO, and days after their first team meeting, those questions aren’t there for the coaching staff heading into the spring. They have answers in the form of MVPs and All-Big Ten selections.

For the first time in a long time, Michigan State has an offensive foundation to build upon -- and a ton of momentum.

During the first team meeting on Tuesday, Dantonio said he looked over to Connor Cook, who at this time last year knew he was walking in to a three, maybe four-player, quarterback battle.

“When you think back to last summer or last year at this time, would you be able to sit here and say in your wildest dreams that you were going to be the MVP in the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten Championship Game?” Dantonio asked Cook.

No one predicted this kind of growth out of Cook. But now that he has showcased his abilities, there’s more to build around.

There won’t be a quarterback controversy. Cook, who finished 2013 averaging 197 passing yards per game while throwing 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions, has basically solidified the starting job for himself.

The Spartans also return their lead running back Jeremy Langford. He accounted for 18 of Michigan State’s 23 rushing touchdowns and finished the season with 1,422 yards.

The receiving corps return Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings Jr., who combined for 1,126 receiving yards and five touchdowns. They will lose Bennie Fowler (622 yards and a team-leading six receiving touchdowns), who chose not to appeal for a sixth year of eligibility, but have receivers Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery and Josiah Price waiting in the wings.

The Spartans will need to replace three offensive linemen, which could create some issues, but the fact that they return so many playmakers is a very good sign.

“Last year, coming off the season that we had, no one really knew where we had to go and guys were like, ‘We really need to improve in the receiver position,’ and at quarterback, no one really knew what was going on,” Cook said. “It’s a lot better for us being in this situation.”

But even with so many key position players returning, Dantonio has emphasized to his players the importance of doing something with those returning players.

Plenty of teams have returned starters and not found success the following season. But with a Rose Bowl and Big Ten championship under this team's belt, Dantonio is making sure his guys remain focused on their next goals.

“The next step is what we do with these opportunities,” Dantonio said. “You don’t just stand still. Nobody stands still. This is an opportunity and we want to move forward from here. … There’s no question that we’re still goal-oriented here, and we’re going to try to move it forward.”