While at his best, Devin Gardner isn't a bad quarterback.
In fact, he's quite serviceable. He makes plays. He looks good while doing so, too.
But, with the highs come the lows--and Gardner has experienced more than a few during stint as Michigan's No. 1 signal-caller. Unproven in big-game situations, the senior leaves something to be desired.
He has "it." We all know he has "it." But does he?
As for the No. 2, Team 135 has super soph Shane Morris, who entered Ann Arbor as one of the highest-rated arms of 2013. Showing flashes of promise, Morris managed to stay relatively upright during the Wolverines' 31-14 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State.
He has a certain "something," that much is clear. It's yet to completely emerge, but it's there.
Getting the best out of both is the challenge for Doug Nussmeier, who takes over offensive coordinator duties in place of Al Borges. And grooming Gardner and Morris is of high priority for Brady Hoke, who remains in search of a true pro-style star and a solid backup man.
Quarterback has been a shaky position of late.
But what about Notre Dame, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State? You know, the rivals? Keeping up with the Joneses, like it or not, is the name of the game.
Where do the Wolverines fall among their peers?
Let's take a look.
Today's post focuses on Michigan State.
Meet Your Neighbor
On the Surface
This past season, Connor Cook quietly threw for 2, 755 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions while leading the Spartans to a Rose Bowl championship.
And honestly, he may not be the best quarterback on his team.
That's the scary part.
Michigan State quarterback Damion Terry making progress under center, learning from Connor Cook http://t.co/54XVvvRyd6— Spartans News (@SpartansMLive) April 18, 2014
For as good as Cook played as a sophomore, there is plenty of reason to believe that Damion Terry could leapfrog him for the No. 1 role in 2014. Again, that's a great problem to have. At the very least, Cook has proven that he can perform well during high-stakes affairs. That makes coaches comfortable when it's time for the back-up plan.
Cook's stock spiked during the final two games of 2013. He lit up the Buckeyes for 304 yards during his team's 34-24 victory in the Big Ten title game, and he threw for 332, a career-high, vs. Stanford in Pasadena.
Until otherwise noted, Cook's the man in East Lansing. But don't count out Terry, who redshirted this past season due to a thumb/hand injury. Prior to the injury, he was considered as a legitimate contender for the No. 1 spot.
Little Bit Deeper
Honestly, Gardner is probably a better overall athlete than Cook, who, at 6'4" and 218 pounds, is roughly the same size as the Wolverines quarterback. However, Gardner moves much better on the run--he doesn't always throw better, though.
In 2013, Gardner threw for 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 picks. However, eight of those picks were thrown prior to October and he was pick-less in his final four outings. He didn't wow spectators this past fall--well, maybe vs. Indiana--but he wasn't as terrible as some like to suggest.
He could have been better. Much better. But he was 40 yards shy of 3,000 and completed 60 percent of his passes. On paper, he's neck-and-neck with a Rose Bowl champion--a guy who wasn't exactly a fan favorite during the beginning of the season, either.
As the above video demonstrates, Gardner, who hobbled late in the year, has a better-than-average arm. When he's firmly planted and given time, he has no trouble with deep throws.
Now look at Cook's tape. What do you see?
The Wolverines must find a way to accentuate the long-ball feature of Gardner's skill set. Think about the opportunities to Devin Funchess that were missed/overlooked/blown this past season. Now think of how many first downs and touchdowns that those failed connections could have produced.
Sure, it's never apple-to-apple, orange-to-orange. Everything fell into place for Cook: His O-line developed and grew stronger throughout the year, his receivers learned to catch and the Spartans had an effective running game with Jeremy Langford leading the way.
Essentially, Cook had everything Gardner didn't. If Gardner can get that this fall, he'll have success. No question there.
Here are a few interesting stats to consider:
Cook never threw more than one interception in a game. Gardner did so four times in 2013.
Cook completed 50 percent or less of his passes four times this past season. That happened to Gardner twice (47.8 percent vs. UConn, 46.4 vs. Iowa).
Other notables for Cook: 58.7 percent, 7.25 YPA, long TD 82, 16 sacks, 135.7 rating, QBR 62.1 raw/64.1 adj.; for Gardner: 60.3 percent, 8.58 YPA, long TD 84, 34 sacks, 146.1 rating, QBR 60 raw/64.3 adj.
In essence, Morris and Terry are similar due to status--they were each highly-touted prospects. Some viewed Morris as the No. 1 pro-styler of the class, while Terry was a top five dual-threat.
Each have tremendous upsides, and each have a chance of seeing the field should their superior fall on hard times.
For Michigan State, having a ready-made two-man system increases chances of repeating as league champions. Depth never hurts, and the Spartans are building that at the skilled positions.
And really, the same is true for Michigan.
Follow Maize 'n Brew's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81