Step right up, Tyler O’Connor. It’s your chance to lead the Michigan State Spartans to what is now charted territory — the College Football Playoff.
No pressure or anything. You’re just inheriting a team that has gone 65-16 since 2010, with multiple Big Ten championships, consistently high rankings, and a Rose Bowl win in the 2013 season.
You’re just replacing a quarterback, Connor Cook, who was selected in the fourth round of this past NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. A quarterback who will go down in Michigan State history as once of the best of all time after throwing for 9,194 yards and 71 touchdowns (compared to 22 interceptions) in four seasons with the Spartans.
No pressure or anything.
Head coach Mark Dantonio named O’Connor the starter on Monday afternoon, saying that he’ll at least start Week 1. It wasn’t a ringing endorsement — Dantonio did leave the door open — but it was an endorsement nonetheless.
“I think Tyler O’Connor’s our quarterback right now. He’s the No. 1 guy,” Dantonio told Chris Solari of the Lansing State Journal. “He’s had a good enough camp to say that right now. But will the other guys play? Possibly. But he’s our No. 1 guy … I could say, right now, he’ll start Week 1.”
Michigan State’s Week 1 matchup should be an easy one at home against the Furman Paladins. It’s a night game, and despite the presence of an FCS opponent, Spartan fans should be out in droves for the start of the 2016 season.
Things kick up in Week 2 when the Spartans travel to South Bend to take on what should be a very good Notre Dame team.
No matter the opponent, don’t expect O’Connor to be complacent. He’s going into this season with a competitive attitude that will serve him well — especially against some of MSU’s tougher opponents.
“I’m going to go out and compete against myself still,” O’Connor told Jeremy Warnemuende of 247Sports. “To me, one of my favorite quotes is that complacency leads to failures. I’ve never been a complacent person. I work had for everything that I get, and we truly haven’t gotten anything yet, so we’re just going to keep working.”
O’Connor’s attitude is likely a direct result of working in Michigan State’s system for the past few years as a backup to Cook. Mark Dantonio is a focused coach who runs an accordingly focused program.
The Spartans compete to the very last second, the product of a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude. O’Connor’s demeanor is an example of that, and it shows why he’s a good fit as Michigan State’s starting quarterback this year. He fits the personality of this program.
Though he has been a career backup, it’s not as though O’Connor heads into this season without experience. He’s been in and around this system for the past four seasons, one as a redshirt freshman. He’s also played in a handful of games, notably last season against No. 2 Ohio State, when he started and led Michigan State to a gritty 17-14 win on the road over one of the best teams in the nation.
Against OSU, O’Connor threw for 89 yards and a touchdown. Those are forgettable stats, but he led MSU in breaking the Buckeyes’ 23-game win streak. It wasn’t pretty, but the win ultimately helped Michigan State get to the CFP.
Not pretty, but effective — that sounds like MSU football sometimes, doesn’t it?
O’Connor will have backup Damion Terry breathing down his neck, but he’s proved in the past that he can help the Spartans — and now it’s his chance to run the show.
Good luck. And no pressure.