Sophomore QB Cook grows up right before Michigan State's eyes

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2013 - 6:59 AM

Connor Cook has quickly transformed into the cool leader of MSU’s offense.


Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook (18) communicates to his team during the first half of an NCAA football game against Northwestern on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)


Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard and the rest of Michigan State’s seniors have won more football games than any class in school history, but it took an unheralded sophomore quarterback to lift them to the Big Ten title game.

Connor Cook was an afterthought in most season previews, just as he’d been an afterthought in national recruiting circles, coming out of Walsh Jesuit High School in Hinckley, Ohio.

Cook said he didn’t even receive a recruiting letter from Ohio State, the team the Spartans face Saturday night in Indianapolis. This might have shattered some prep quarterbacks from Ohio, but not Cook, whose father played tight end at Indiana, making the family lukewarm toward the Buckeyes anyway.

“I knew they had their sights set on Braxton Miller, and I knew they were only going to take one quarterback in that class,” Cook said. “I really wasn’t that highly recruited at that point, so if I’m not getting recruited by other Big Ten schools, why would Ohio State recruit me?”

Now, Cook has a chance to spoil No. 2 Ohio State’s BCS title hopes and lead No. 10 Michigan State to its first Rose Bowl since 1988. Tracing his path to Saturday’s game, there are reminders how agonizingly close the Spartans have come to reaching Pasadena in recent years.

The Spartans gave Cook his first scholarship offer, and he committed in December 2010, right after Michigan State finished in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title with Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Rose Bowl berth went to the Badgers because they ranked higher in the final BCS standings, even though Michigan State had defeated Wisconsin.

In 2011, Cook redshirted as Michigan State finished 11-3, losing the inaugural Big Ten title game to Wisconsin — 42-39. And Cook spent last year as Andrew Maxwell’s backup, as the Spartans went 7-6, losing five games by four points or fewer.

“Connor’s a guy that two years ago I might think you were crazy if you told me he was going to be the quarterback, and we’d be 11-1, sitting where we are right now,” Bullough said.

Bullough added: “It’s been unbelievable. I mean, the changes that kid’s made as a person and as a football player have been unrivaled by anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s grown up. He’s more mature, he’s more athletic, he’s becoming a leader on our football team.”

Any discussion about Michigan State starts with the defense. Bullough, a linebacker, Dennard, a cornerback, and sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun were all consensus first-team All-Big Ten selections. The Spartans lead the nation in total defense, allowing just 237.7 yards per game.

Michigan State’s defense was outstanding last year, too, but an inept offense led to a lot of frustrating Saturdays. The development of Cook and junior running back Jeremy Langford has keyed the team’s offensive revival.

The Spartans average 29.4 points per game this year, compared to 20.0 last year.

Coach Mark Dantonio kept the quarterback battle open throughout preseason camp. Maxwell started the season opener, and the strong-armed Cook has started every game since. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Dantonio benched Cook at the end of the 17-13 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 21.

But Cook helped the Spartans go 8-0 in Big Ten play, ranking fourth in the conference in passing yards (1,708) and fourth in pass efficiency (138.6). After starting the year as a second-stringer, he wound up earning second-team All-Big Ten honors from the league’s coaches.

“He’s 10-1 right now as the starter,” Dantonio said. “I look back and say, ‘Should I have kept him in there those last two minutes of the Notre Dame game?’ to be honest with you. … But I think he has grown.

“I also think he’s a resilient young man. I mean, he can get knocked down and get back up, and that’s as important as anything in a football game.”

  • related content

  • Chart: Michigan State at a glance

    Thursday December 5, 2013

    MICHIGAN STATE AT A GLANCERecord: 11-1, 8-0 Big TenKey players: Senior Darqueze Dennard was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Back...

  • For Ohio State, undefeated football season might not be enough

    Friday December 6, 2013

    Ohio State carries a 12-0 record and 24-game winning streak into the Big Ten title game. Yet the Buckeyes’ flaws could derail their BCS title chances.

  • Connor Cook, a native of Ohio, ranked fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards (1,708) and fourth in pass efficiency (138.6) after beginning the season as the No. 2 quarterback.

  • Big Ten Championship [10] Michigan State vs. [2] Ohio State 7 p.m. Saturday • Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis • TV: Ch. 9

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
Toronto 35 2nd Qtr 4:36
LA Clippers 43
Boston 6:00 PM
Orlando 6:00 PM
Memphis 6:30 PM
Indiana 7:00 PM
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Atlanta 7:30 PM
Philadelphia 8:00 PM
New York 9:00 PM
Minnesota 9:30 PM
Golden State
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Detroit 6:00 PM
Carolina 6:00 PM
Tampa Bay
New Jersey 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Boston 6:00 PM
Winnipeg 6:00 PM
Washington 6:30 PM
Dallas 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Anaheim 7:00 PM
Chicago 8:00 PM
Edmonton 9:00 PM
San Jose 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 40 2nd Half 12:20
Northwestern 52
UAB 4 1st Half 12:04
North Carolina 15
IUPUI 17 1st Half 10:23
Pepperdine 13
Santa Clara 17 1st Half 7:08
St Marys-CA 21
Oakland 4:00 PM
Gonzaga 5:00 PM
Mercer 5:00 PM
San Francisco 5:00 PM
Wright State 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Presbyterian 6:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Brescia 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Tennessee St 7:30 PM
Kennesaw St 8:00 PM
Colorado State 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Portland 8:00 PM
San Diego
Wayland Baptist 8:05 PM
Utah State
Bristol University 8:05 PM
Weber State
Sacramento St 8:05 PM
Utah Valley U
Southern Utah 9:00 PM
SD Christian 9:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 27 3rd Qtr 11:08
Duke 17
Miami-Florida 6 2nd Qtr 11:00
So Carolina 0
Boston College 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
(2) Connecticut 96
UCF 43 2nd Half 9:47
Houston 37
BYU 4:00 PM
Pacific 4:00 PM
San Francisco
St Marys-CA 4:00 PM
Santa Clara
San Diego 7:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon




question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question