CHICAGO — Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio says Tyler O’Connor is in the lead to be the starting quarterback for the Spartans this season but that the race is not yet close to the finish line.
“Tyler obviously is in the lead right now, but I’m not going to have the pressure put on one person to say this is the make or break guy. That’s just the way we’re going to do it at this point in time,” Dantonio said Tuesday on the second day of the Big Ten Football Media Days.
O’Connor is a fifth-year senior from Lima Central Catholic High School. His competition for the starting job comes from junior Damion Terry, redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and true freshman Messiah DeWeaver.
After redshirting in 2012, O’Connor backed up Connor Cook for the next three seasons.
His career highlight, of course, was leading MSU to a 17-14 win over Ohio State at Ohio Stadium last season when Cook was unable to play because of a shoulder injury.
O’Connor completed 7 of 12 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 25 yards on eight carries to lead No. 9 Michigan State over No. 2 Ohio State in a game in which OSU was favored by two touchdowns even with Cook as the starter.
That performance earned O’Connor a week of national media exposure but it did not guarantee him the starting job in 2016.
Asked what factors are at the top of the list when deciding on a starting quarterback, Dantonio said, “I think quarterback is about decision making and it’s about creating and making plays. So we’ll look at that as we move forward in fall camp.
“Right now Tyler O’Connor is probably or is the lead guy from a leadership standpoint. But the other guys are extremely talented. At the end of it all you have to play well in camp and then you’ve got to play well early in the process.
“It’s about decision making, turnovers, getting us into the right play, creating plays with your feet and with your arm and making quick, solid decisions,” he said.
Cook did not win the starting job until early in the 2013 season and the same type of thing could happen this season.
Dantonio said he thought he put too much pressure on quarterback Andrew Maxwell in 2012 when he replaced Kirk Cousins and Maxwell struggled. He eventually lost his starting job to Cook the next year and never threw another touchdown pass for Michigan State.
“One of the things I’ve learned as a head football coach is that you don’t anoint somebody (early) and put all the pressure on them,” Dantonio said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.