EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The All-Big Ten second team quarterback this season started the year as the third-team quarterback on his own team.
But in just four months, Michigan State’s Connor Cook has risen from backup to bigwig and is now preparing to lead his 11-1 Spartans to their second Big Ten championship game in three years.
“He can get knocked down and get back up and that’s as important as anything in a football game,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He has that presence about him -- that ability to take a hit, to take something bad happening out there and be able to respond, and I think that’s huge, especially in a championship venue.”
That championship venue that he’ll enter with the full confidence of his team and coach seems far from the Spartans’ first road game at Notre Dame, when Dantonio pulled Cook for the final drive and put in fifth-year senior Andrew Maxwell.
It’s a decision that Dantonio still questions, as Maxwell was unable to mount a late-game comeback. The loss to the Irish remains the only blemish on No. 10 Michigan State’s schedule.
But that, as well as the other tests Cook has endured this season -- a prolonged battle in fall camp or having his first start against USF come with a rotating QB system -- has prepared Cook for his shot at No. 2 Ohio State and a BCS berth.
It all seems oddly fitting for the quarterback who committed on his first college offer and has always been a bit overlooked.
“It just shows with hard work you can accomplish a lot of things,” Cook said. “I think ever since I came here I’ve just been a super hard worker, always working for something. Day in and day out, whatever it is, if I find something to work at, I’m going to work. If I have something in front of me, I’m going to do whatever I possibly can to accomplish it.”
Cook finally took total control of the starting QB job for the Spartans at Iowa, and since that point, the sophomore is averaging 214 passing yards per game and is completing 60 percent of his passes. In that same span he has thrown 12 TD passes and just four interceptions.
But the starting quarterback job wasn’t the only position up for grabs at the beginning of the season for the MSU offense and one that needed to work its way out through the first few games.
Some signal-callers come out of their quarterback controversy and have the luxury to walk into a pre-made offense stocked with playmakers.
Cook, on the other hand, was on an offense that didn’t know which running back would be taking handoffs or which receiver would catch Cook’s passes.
With Cook leading the way, this Michigan State offense has emerged, and a team that is generally known only for its defense has produced a competitive offensive force, too.
And though statistics would say Cook isn’t the second-best QB in the Big Ten (he ranks eighth in passing yards per game and ninth in pass efficiency), the conference coaches saw reason enough to name him the second team All-Big Ten QB.
That’s fine with him. To enter behind Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller will just be another test Cook will be ready to tackle this season.
“This is the most important week of our entire lives, definitely the most important week of my life since I’ve been alive -- stuff you dream about,” Cook said. “I’m going into this game with no regrets, prepared my butt off, getting the film, watching the film of Ohio State and just going over our game plan.”