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MSU quarterback race a two-man battle

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Connor Cook sat at his table in the middle of Michigan State media day last Monday, less than a handful of reporters surrounding the redshirt sophomore quarterback.

If there was any question of which quarterback was receiving the majority of the attention during the Spartans’ two-headed quarterback competition this fall, all Cook needed to do was look a few tables over to the right. There, senior Andrew Maxwell, the incumbent who started 13 games last season, had a full table of reporters and television cameras.

Cook recognized this. It is pretty commonplace. So when he was asked if he still feels like the backup quarterback, well, he does.

“Maxwell started the whole season last year pretty much and I only got to see time in like two games,” Cook said. “But I mean, yeah, it does. After practice I only get interviewed by three people and he gets interviewed by everyone else. If everyone was interviewing me and I was the guy in the spotlight, then I would feel like the guy.

“But I wouldn’t say I feel like the starter. I still feel like the backup but continuing to work to be the starter.”

At some point in his career, Cook could ascend to the spot. It might be as soon as this season, as Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has insisted he will continue to look at both quarterbacks -- and could end up playing two quarterbacks in games this season.

Dantonio does not want what happened to Maxwell last season, where as a first-year starter he was thrown into games with little-to-no experience, to occur a second straight year. Sure, Maxwell has that experience now but his production in games was questionable last season. He completed only 52.4 percent of his passes with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13:9.

If he had a better year, the competition aspect of playing both Maxwell and Cook would probably not be as big of a deal. But instead there is a real question and a real wonder as to who will be the starter.

“What they do in terms of decision making and creativity will define them,” Dantonio said.

In Michigan State’s first scrimmage Saturday, the Spartans’ Twitter account said Maxwell completed 13 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown. Cook completed 13 of 18 passes for 133 yards. In other words, fairly equal.

Early on during Michigan State’s fall camp -- and in spring practice -- the more experienced Maxwell was the better decision maker. Cook, though, has the ability to keep plays alive with his feet. He doesn’t have the experience, but his athleticism is intriguing.

Even if Maxwell does win the job, Dantonio sounds like a coach who wants to make sure Cook has some experience --for now or in the future.

“It’s been a good working environment,” Dantonio said. “Not to say we’re going to even split it, but especially early on, we have to give somebody some opportunities to play. Just because I think it will benefit him in the long run.

“I know with [Kirk] Cousins, we gave him an opportunity to play in the Capital One game against Georgia in 2008, and I think it paid dividends in ’09.”

There is the chance, of course, that either Maxwell or Cook does so well over the next few weeks they become the unquestioned starter. If that happens, so be it at Michigan State. But until it does, the Spartans plan to stick with what they are going into the season intending to do.

This gives Cook a chance to compete. Maxwell, the entrenched starter, says he also understands the situation. Being the starter last season, he could have reason to be frustrated. He insists he is not.

“I don’t think there’s really room for frustration because it’s reality,” Maxwell said. “It’s the situation we’re in. I think the good side is there is opportunity.

“I have another year to play. I have the opportunity to be the starting quarterback again and I have the opportunity to come back and be the quarterback of a team who is poised and ready to do a lot of good things and be very successful. That kind of trumps any frustration. I am excited to have the opportunity to be the guy again. Now it’s my job to go out and prove that and earn that.”

If he does, the same horde which surrounded him early at MIchigan State’s media day will continue to do so. If not, Cook may finally feel like the starter instead of the guy auditioning to try and win the role.