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Is Tyler O’Connor ready to be next great quarterback at Michigan State?

Life without Connor Cook looks all sorts of familiar to the last time the Michigan State Spartans had to find a new starting quarterback. Back then it was replacing star Kirk Cousins with an open battle, now it is Cook, the eventual winner of that battle, that the Spartans have to replace.

This spring many believed there would be a big battle between senior Tyler O’Connor and redshirt junior Damion Terry, one that may last well in to the fall actually.

It was a battle we all saw play out on the field in spurts last season, as the two took snaps in mop-up time or in relief of Cook early on in the season.

However, what makes this battle much different from the last time is the fact that it appeared there was a leader in the clubhouse heading in to the offseason. That’s because O’Connor was the one the Spartans coaching staff turned to when Cook went down with a shoulder injury in the first half against Maryland and got the start in the Ohio State game.

O’Connor may have gotten the call, but he didn’t really take full command, completing just 13 of 23 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

That led plenty to believe the coaching staff certainly would leave the door open to a full battle between Terry and O’Connor.

But, could it be that the door has already closed on the battle? As the Spartans head to the home stretch of their 15 practices it appears that the senior in this battle is winning out.

Just don’t expect the ever-so-coy Mark Dantonio to be heaping a ton of praise his way. Instead, he did it in his own way earlier this week.

“You start having scrimmages, people tend to separate themselves as we go, or they stay the same, it’s a slow process,” Dantonio said, via MLive.com.

“I think Tyler has got a lot of ability, and obviously what he was able to do the second half of the Maryland game and then the all of the Ohio State game speaks volumes, so he was very successful,” MSU’s 10th-year head coach said. “He’s got to have a great spring and a great fall camp.”

Not a normal ringing endorsement, but then you look at reports on his play from camp and from other players and it becomes clear whom is the leader coming out of spring.

Just don’t count out Damion Terry just yet, and history is a great reminder of why.

Having a clear leader out of spring is exactly what happened last time, and when the games were for real the guy starting on week one wasn’t Cook, but Andrew Maxwell. However, Cook was so close coming out of camp that he eventually played his way in to being the full-time starter and the rest is MSU history.

What exactly will it take for either O’Connor or Terry to win this job?

“It’s always about decision-making and then ability to create when things break down,” Dantonio said. “You can’t make a lot of mistakes at that position, you have to control everybody else and lead on the field.

“It’s execution, decision making and creativity.”

Pretty simple things on paper, but extremely difficult in practice.

It’s that jump from being able to manage a game to winning it on your own that O’Connor needs to show, and he knows it fully well.

“I have to be able to step up and make a play when it’s there, and even when it’s not there. Last year I wasn’t necessarily asked to do that as much, it was more with my feet than with my arm, so I have to be able to make some throws with my arm in pressure situations.”

With three new starters working in on the offensive line and eight more practices left on the docket, O’Connor and Terry have very little margin for error.

Confidence is going to be key, and performing well in the spring game could lead to plenty of confidence heading in to the key summer months of individual workouts and “unorganized” activities.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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