Even if he and his Michigan Spartans lose Thursday’s College Football Playoff semifinal, Connor Cook has firmly established his legacy as the greatest quarterback in the history of the school.
He has a 34-4 record as a starting quarterback, two Big Ten Championships, a Rose Bowl title and a win in last year’s Good Year Cotton Bowl.
That said, Cook will add to his legend as a great collegiate quarterback if he can lead the Spartans to a victory over the Crimson Tide and the Oklahoma-Clemson winner.
When you look at what all the college pundits are saying in their analysis leading up to the game, it all points to the Alabama defense being stingy against its opponents running game. Going back to the LSU game, when Alabama shut down early season Heisman Trophy favorite Leonard Fournette, the Crimson Tide haven’t allowed a team to gain over 100 yards rushing.
The experts are saying that trend will continue against the Spartans running back by committee, but the one thing that Alabama’s defense hasn’t had to face this season was an experienced senior quarterback like Cook.
He’s a quarterback who has a knack for winning big games when things fall on his shoulders.
While slowing down the Spartans running game has always been the template to stopping Michigan State in recent years, teams haven’t been successful at stopping Cook, especially in the big games. He’s always found ways to make plays when teams have thrown a monkey wrench MSU rushing attack.
That was definitely the case on the Spartans 22-play, 82-yard drive that beat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship. Not only did Cook complete some key passes on that drive, but he also ran for a first down on a fourth and two play from the Iowa five-yard line. That huge play prolonged the drive and led to L.J. Scott’s winning touchdown.
In the Spartans last two bowl games, Cook has had to bring his team back from a double-digit deficit.
Against Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl, Cook passed for 332 yards and threw what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown pass. Last year’s Cotton Bowl found the Spartans trailing Baylor by 20 in the fourth quarter, but Cook threw a pair of touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Keith Mumphery with 17 seconds left in the game.
To further illustrate his toughness in that game, Cook had thrown a potentially game-ending interception late in the fourth quarter. Instead of getting down on himself, he kept battling back and kept firing until he got it right.
If tonight’s game does come down to Alabama bottling up the Michigan State running game, it will give Cook another chance to further etch his name into the collegiate football history books. To be honest, Cook doesn’t have to win another game given all the accolades he has received over the last four years. But he refuses to rest on his past accomplishments.
Cook’s mantra throughout the season has been about finishing and fighting until the job is done.
The Spartans came into the 2015 season with a goal to win the Big Ten title and put themselves in position to win a national championship.
“It’s all about finishing. No matter what the outcome is or the score, we could be losing, whatever it is, as long as we push forward, you know, finish the game, usually good things will happen,” Cook said during his press conference at Cotton Bowl Media Day.