Anxiety builds for Michigan State quarterbacks

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Kirk Cousins first started competing for Michigan State's starting quarterback spot as a senior in high school.

Less than a month after Cousins verbally committed to the Spartans, the team added another quarterback, Nick Foles, to the 2007 class. Foles eventually transferred to Arizona, but Michigan State added a quarterback transfer in Keith Nichol, who originally committed to the Spartans before switching to Oklahoma after a coaching change. Nichol quickly became Cousin's top competition when Brian Hoyer graduated.

Needless to say, Cousins is used to this. But he also knows the moment of truth is getting closer.

"I've been dealing with this now for two years, so I've been anxious for two years," Cousins said. "Another week's not going to change anything. But definitely, I understand that this is crunch time, and a lot is going to be determined September 5th and September 12th, in those first two games, as far as the direction they're going to go."

Head coach Mark Dantonio's plan all along called for both Cousins and Nichol to see the field early in the season. The quarterbacks were dead even coming out of spring ball, putting up the exact same numbers in the Green and White Game (357 pass yards, 4 TDs each).

Things have more or less remained the same in camp, with Nichol putting up better numbers in the first scrimmage and Cousins tossing the only touchdown in Friday's scrimmage at Spartan Stadium.

"What they've told us is that we will both play," Cousins said. "They believe that game experience is extremely important, and that's where a quarterback has to ultimately be evaluated. It wouldn't be fair to make an evaluation strictly off of practice and then go with a guy. [Dantonio] thinks you have to play both of the guys in a game to see what they can do in a game situation, and I would agree with that."

Nichol agrees that both he and Cousins deserve field time outside of mop-up duty, but he doesn't foresee Michigan State sticking with a two-quarterback system very long.

"They really want to pick a starter," Nichol said, "a guy who's going to lead them to a Big Ten title from now until then. ... Nobody wants to do the two-QB system. Nobody really knows who to follow, exactly. Both of us can lead, but the quarterback's a special position where only one of them gets to play. You have to be able to follow one guy specifically.

"There's no such thing as too much leadership, but at the same time, you need a guy that everybody on the offense can look to."

Dantonio is also looking beyond the decision on a starter.

He wants to make sure factions don't develop in the locker room. He also notes that both Cousins and Nichol are sophomores, so "whoever takes control of that football team needs to move that football team, because there is competition."

"The person who is going to have to really put the team first is the guy who ends up not being the starter long term," Cousins said. "They're going to have the most difficult situation. I don't think other people on the team will really take sides. But that person is obviously in a very difficult situation and has to face some adversity. The natural human emotion is it would be difficult to respond positively, but that's what one of us has to do."

Cousins and the coaches have gone through hypothetical situations of how he would react to being the backup. Nichol, meanwhile, isn't focused on the possibility of being No. 2.

"I don't think as a quarterback, you should be putting yourself in that kind of position," he said. "You always have to think you're the guy, you're the man. ... People outside ask you hypothetically, 'How will you react?' And I just say, 'I don't think like that.'"

Both quarterbacks have been pleased with their progress so far in camp, and despite their differences in style, Cousins said both are running the same offensive system.

Cousins notes that his ability to read defenses has improved, while Nichol, who often gets stereotyped as a run-first quarterback, has grown more comfortable sitting in the pocket and going through his progressions as long as possible.

"It's been a long road," Nichol said. "I'm really anxious to have it figured out. Anxious is the best word. Anxious for the season, anxious for the season, anxious for the future. I'm excited about everything that's going on."