Healthy Quarterback Competition

Aug. 11, 2009

By TIM MARTIN, The Associated Press

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The last time Michigan State's Keith Nichol was in a battle to become a starting quarterback, he lost out to a guy who eventually would win the Heisman Trophy.

Understandable, so far as losses go.

Two years later, Nichol has moved out from under the long shadow cast by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and settled closer to his west Michigan home. But Nichol again is in a preseason fight for a starting position, this time with Michigan State's Kirk Cousins.

Michigan State coaches appear quite comfortable with both sophomore quarterbacks and are in no hurry to declare a starter as the 2009 season approaches. While admitting to some healthy competitive tension, Nichol and Cousins also appear fairly comfortable with each other.

"I feel like my chances are good. And his chances are good," Nichol said Tuesday. "We're pushing each other every day. We both know not just one guy is going to play. We're trying to prepare each other."

Cousins, seated at a separate table just a few feet away, also was politically correct.

Kirk Cousins saw action in five games in 2008 and completed 74 percent of his passes for 310 yards and two TDs.

"We understand the situation," said Cousins, who completed 32 of 43 passes for 310 yards last season as a backup to Brian Hoyer, a free agent signee with the New England Patriots. "We need to be teammates first and help the team first. We're not competing against each other-we're competing with each other."

Cousins and Nichol were both prep stars on the west side of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Both verbally committed to Michigan State and were expected to join the program before the 2007 season.

But the Spartans made a coaching change, firing pass-oriented John L. Smith and replacing him with defensive-minded Mark Dantonio. Cousins signed with Michigan State anyway. But Nichol changed his plans and signed with Oklahoma, where he enrolled early to try and get a jump on a wide-open, three-way quarterback competition.

Bradford eventually won the starting job and became established as one of the nation's best quarterbacks in 2007, prompting Nichol's decision to transfer back home after his freshman season. Nichol was sitting out last season at Michigan State while Bradford was on his way to winning the Heisman and leading the Sooners to the BCS national championship game.

"I don't really regret anything," Nichol said of his decision to attend Oklahoma. "I learned a lot of valuable lessons when I was out there. It just helps you grow mentally, makes you tougher. I think it's really helped me mature."

Cousins is billed as an efficient game manager while Nichol is considered more of a dual threat who can create when a play breaks down. But for the most part, the quarterbacks share similar traits-and Dantonio's confidence headed into the season.

"They're two young men that are extremely gifted-and not just athletically," Dantonio said. "They're very gifted in terms of how they handle people. They're very gifted in terms of how they handle their academics.

"I don't think the quarterback situation is a problem," Dantonio said. "I think the quarterback situation is as strong as it's been since I've been here."