The 2014 season didn’t exactly play out the way Connor Cook and the Michigan State Spartans had anticipated heading into the year.
It’s hard to say last year was a disappointment with the Spartans finishing the year 11-2 with the only two losses coming at the hands of Oregon and Ohio State. Mark Dantonio’s squad even rounded out the season in exciting fashion, staging a come-from-behind victory to take down Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.
For a team that had aspirations of repeating as Big Ten champions and earning a bid in the inaugural College Football Playoff, 11-2 and a bowl victory didn’t satisfy anyone in East Lansing.
Heading into next season, the Spartans have the same dreams they had a year ago. Winning the conference and competing for a national championship.
With Cook entering his final season, he’ll be asked to put together a Heisman-like campaign if the Spartans want to reach their ultimate goal. Without question, the senior from Hinckley, Ohio can answer that call.
This offseason Cook has been somewhat overshadowed in the Heisman discussion, taking a backseat to a plethora of worthy candidates in Columbus. While the three-headed quarterback monster of Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones along with running back Ezekiel Elliott continue to garner most of the attention as the conference’s top offensive threats, Cook is quietly positioning himself for a successful senior campaign.
It’s a bit of a change for a quarterback who was one of the favorites in the Big Ten’s top offensive player discussion in 2014, but the shift of focus shouldn’t be a knock on a 3,214-yard, 24-touchdown performer.
After a season coined “the year of the running back” in the conference, the Big Ten is presumed to have plenty of depth at the quarterback spot, creating plenty of anticipation for an effective aerial attack throughout the league. Cook is a major reason for that perception.
Michigan State’s offensive improvement from 2013 to 2014 can be attributed to a number of different variables. The defense wasn’t as impenetrable as it had been in the past. Availability of offensive assets Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett allowed for bigger plays. The play on the offensive line was much more efficient. The bottom-line, though, regardless of all the tools and improvements on the offensive side of the football, was a team doesn’t average 43 points per game without an effective quarterback.
Even though some of the Spartans’ biggest play-makers won’t be on the field trying to dethrone the Buckeyes from their Big Ten title, they haven’t lost their field general.
He’s the main reason Michigan State is still a legitimate threat to win the conference next year. That’s the biggest argument to Cook’s legitimacy as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Plenty of challenges await Cook and Michigan State with Oregon and Penn State on the home schedule and trips to Ohio State and Nebraska on the slate. Those contests are extremely difficult tests for a team hoping to gain consideration as a playoff contender. It also provides plenty of opportunity for one of the conference’s top quarterbacks to prove his worth.
In a conference full of quality quarterbacks, Cook may not be the sexiest pick to lead the Heisman voting. His consistency and clutch capability argue differently.
East Lansing has never been home to a Heisman Trophy winner. That could change if the Spartans are cooking in 2015.