The Michigan State Spartans will never be a pass-happy team under head coach Mark Dantonio, but the MSU receivers will have plenty of reasons to grin in 2014.
For the first time since 2011, when QB Kirk Cousins was entering his senior season, the Spartans will return a polished passer under center with the potential to toss for over 3,000 yards. Redshirt junior Connor Cook enters 2014 on the high of wins against the Ohio State Buckeyes and Stanford Cardinal, which boosted the perception of the Spartan program similarly to when Cousins’ rebounded after a three-point loss in the Big Ten Championship to defeat the Georgia Bulldogs in the Outback Bowl. Just as Cousins was aided by a solid running attack headed by Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker that season, Cook will surely find solace in the return of senior running back Jeremy Langford (1,422 rushing yards in 2013).
The biggest beneficiaries? The more seasoned MSU receiving corps, which will be virtually the same group in 2014. While Michigan State lost last season’s top pass-catcher, Bennie Fowler, to graduation, the senior’s 622 yards barely eclipsed the 613 yards collected by Tony Lippett. In fact, Fowler actually hauled in less passes (36) than both Lippett (44) and Macgarrett Kings Jr. (43). Cook demonstrated his trust in a variety of receivers last season, which should pay huge dividends now, as every Spartan who caught a pass in 2013 except for Fowler — 16 in total — will return this season.
That mix of pass-catchers comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, too. Tight ends Josiah Price (210 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Jamal Lyles will be trusted to grind it out between the hashes, while smaller playmakers like Kings Jr. will keep defenders’ heads spinning all over the field.
While Lippett, Price, Kings Jr. and Keith Mumphrey (299 yards and 3 touchdowns) will be the headliners, there’s plenty of depth in the unit. After hauling in over 300 yards as a true freshman, Aaron Burbridge was a little lost in the shuffle last season, but has already shown the potential for great things. Former Tennessee Volunteers transfer DeAnthony Arnett could also be good for 20-plus receptions this season now that he is a bit more situated in East Lansing. Throw in Langford’s pass-cataching ability out of the backfield (28 receptions in 2013) and it’s evident Cook has plenty of selection to put together a 3,000-yard season after just falling short in 2013 with 2,755 passing yards.
Though they may not toss the pigskin around like the Indiana Hoosiers, Michigan State will definitely not be afraid to air it out in 2014.