Michigan State Football: Top 5 Heisman contenders of Mark Dantonio era

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Captain Kirk, as he was known as during his time in East Lansing from 2008-11, was one of the top quarterbacks in Michigan State history. Dantonio has a strong history of developing talent and coaching it up to the best of his ability. Some may say he has the best development coaching staff in the nation because of his churning out of NFL talent each year from two and three-star recruits.

Kirk was ranked just the No. 27 player in the state of Michigan by Rivals and many believed that he had a chance to compete for a starting job eventually, but very few thought it would come during his sophomore season.

After Keith Nichol transferred from Oklahoma to contend for the starting quarterback position following Brian Hoyer’s departure, it was widely assumed that he would step in and automatically fill the vacancy. However, Cousins had something to say about that, battling it out for a few games in 2009 before ultimately winning the job over Nichol who eventually became a wide receiver.

In his first season as starter, Cousins showed flashes of greatness, passing for 2,680 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine picks with a 60 percent completion rate. At times, he would get down on himself for throwing a pick, but learned to overcome that feeling as the season went on. Cousins became a true leader.

By his junior year, big things were expected of Kirk, and boy did he ever deliver. Cousins gave Dantonio his first 11-win season in 2010, passing for 2,825 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 picks, but MSU lost the Capital One Bowl, marking its fourth-straight postseason loss.

Kirk’s time to shine as a true Heisman contender came in his senior year in 2011. Although he didn’t finish as a finalist, he was truly considered one of the top QBs in the nation, along with current NFL teammate Robert Griffin III who actually did win the Heisman that year.

Cousins finished his MSU career with nearly 9,000 passing yards and 66 touchdown passes while his completion rate rose from 60 percent as a sophomore to 64 percent as a senior.

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