If you’re a former Michigan State quarterback with a 9-year-old son dreaming of following in your footsteps, the Dallas area has been a convenient place to live the last couple of years to treat your son.
You saw the Spartans beat Baylor last year in the Cotton Bowl and No. 3-ranked Michigan State (12-1) is back in the Cotton Bowl this year to play No. 2 Alabama (12-1) at 8 p.m. Thursday in the College Football Playoff semifinal at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The above description fits Tony Banks, Michigan State’s quarterback in 1994 and 1995 as a junior college transfer from San Diego Mesa, and his son Tony Jr., who goes by “Deuce.” Banks lives in the Dallas area and works as a TV analyst for Fox Sports West, and Spartans Coach Mark Dantonio has opened practice to father and young son.
“I think he loves going to Michigan State practices more than the games,” Banks said of his son. “Dantonio and his staff treat him like he’s already on the team. He’s obsessed with the Spartans. He’ll be ready to commit by ninth grade if they offer him.”
Banks is accustomed to breaking down games and naturally has some thoughts on the Cotton Bowl. The winner advances to the national championship on Jan. 11 against the winner of the first semifinal matching No. 1 Clemson (13-0) and No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Orange Bowl.
He sees a defensive advantage for Alabama with its talent and depth among the front seven, but also feels that can be countered by Michigan State’s advantage at quarterback. The Spartans have an NFL prospect in Connor Cook.
Cook, the Johnny Unitas Award winner, is a third-year starter with wins in the Rose Bowl in addition to the last year’s Cotton Bowl.
“The line has to give him time and he has to bring his “A” game,” Banks said. “I think he can take advantage of Alabama’s secondary. He’s had some great games like the Indiana game. They weren’t going to let the Spartans run the ball, and he was dropping dimes on them. But he’s had other games like Nebraska when he wasn’t as consistent.”
On the other side of the ball, Banks said Michigan State’s defense needs to dominate the line of scrimmage to force Alabama quarterback Jake Coker to throw. He’s considered a game manager, coached not to make a mistake while handing off the ball the Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.
“Michigan State can get some interceptions,” Banks said. “He is a better athlete than I thought he was, but he is still very deliberate with the ball. He is very slow getting the ball out of his hand. I’m glad to see Michigan State’s defense coming on the way they’ve played against Ohio State and Iowa. Earlier in the year they weren’t as dominant.”
Banks thinks Cook still needs to work on his throwing fundamentals as he moves onto the NFL, but most of all he has benefited from playing in pro-style offense.
“He knows how to read defenses,” he said. “Look at the Michigan State quarterbacks in the NFL: Brian Hoyer, Drew Stanton and Kirk Cousins. Cousins is having a great season. Cook can be next. The other thing I like about Cook is he never lets a bad play bother him. He comes right back.”
Banks credits his NFL career to a switch to a pro-style offense his senior year at Michigan State in 1995.
He was recruited by George Perles and started as a junior in 1994, but Perles was fired at the end of the season. Nick Saban was hired and stayed at Michigan State from 1995 through the 1999 before he left for LSU (2000-04), followed by the Miami Dolphins (2005-06) and his three national titles at Alabama (2007-present).
“I didn’t know how to read defenses,” he said of his junior year. “It was just looking for an open guy, and if he’s not there run around. I learned how to read defenses in a pro-style offense playing for Saban.”
Banks said he thought about giving Saban a call with Alabama in town but he didn’t.
“I haven’t stayed in touch with him over the years,” he said.
He didn’t say if Deuce would have wanted to go with him to an Alabama practice. “Deuce,” Tony explained, naturally became a Michigan State fan as much through his mother, Yolanda, as him. Yolanda is an East Lansing High graduate.
“They love watching all the games,” Tony said. “I love it too, but I don’t get as excited for some of the games like Indiana.”