Kicker Brett Swenson, left, delivered time and again in the clutch for the Spartans. (Dale G. Young/The Detroit News)
East Lansing -- It has been rare in the past 10-plus seasons at Michigan State that there would ever be a concern over kicking.
All-Big Ten performers have been commonplace for the Spartans, from all-time points and field goals leader Brett Swenson, to Dave Rayner to Paul Edinger. Even Chris Gardner was honorable mention All-Big Ten in 1996. It's a history of excellence that dates to NFL great Morten Andersen from 1978-81.
So it's not too surprising there is great interest in who will win the job this season to replace Swenson.
Sophomore Dan Conroy and redshirt freshman Kevin Muma are battling it out, as is freshman Mike Sadler, although he is primarily working as a punter.
Coach Mark Dantonio wasn't happy after Monday's scrimmage, but has liked the way his kickers have performed overall in fall camp.
"They've got to be able to do it in the course of a game-type situation," Dantonio said last week.
Swenson proved mettle
The value of a dependable kicker can sometimes be hard to gauge. Settling for three points is hardly anyone's choice when a drive stalls.
But the importance becomes critical in close games. The one-score losses during Dantonio's tenure have been discussed, but it's the tight wins that highlight how effective Swenson was for the Spartans.
In last season's 24-14 win over Northwestern, Swenson's 28-yarder at the end of the third quarter put MSU up, 17-7. A Larry Caper TD after a Northwestern turnover tacked onto the field goal just 12 seconds later to put the game away. And Swenson's 21-yarder with 1:51 to play against Purdue gave Michigan State its sixth victory.
Swenson's field goal at the gun against Wisconsin in 2008 was probably the highlight of his career, and proved again how a reliable kicker can save the day.
"Can you play those tight games, control the ball with the run game?" Howard Griffith of the Big Ten Network said. "Then how confident are you in your field goal kicker to kick a 45-yarder, or 35-yarder with a minute left on the clock?
"Special teams are critical, but when you talk about the teams that want to make a jump, that's a phase they can ill-afford to lose."
A shaky performance in the first scrimmage aside, the Spartans feel they have the guys who can fill Swenson's shoes.
"They're both so physically gifted," punter Aaron Bates, the holder on placekicks, said of Conroy and Muma. "Maybe more so than Brett Swenson. They both have great legs and are accurate. What we have to figure out now is how they handle game situations."
Considering Michigan State's history with kickers, that person will likely thrive in the pressure of the big game. Just who that person will be remains to be seen.