April 24, 2014

Mostly cloudy

Ohio vs. Michigan: Cook has been leader Spartans needed

It’s been quite a ride for Connor Cook and Michigan State’s football program.

The Hinckley Township native has guided the Spartans to their first perfect Big Ten regular season since 1966 and the conference championship game for the second time in three seasons.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook (AP FILE PHOTO)

It wasn’t easy for Cook, as he not only was involved in a three-player quarterback competition at the beginning of the season, but had to lead an offense that many doubted at the beginning of the season.

“The main goal for me was to win the job and then do everything I can to lead the team to victory,” said Cook, who was a standout at Walsh Jesuit. “It’s was a good feeling once I got the job and it was my chance to be a leader.”

Cook has taken full advantage of his opportunity.

The 6-foot-4, 218-pounder, who recently was named second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches, is 10-1 as the starter and will look to snap the nation’s longest win streak Saturday night when the Spartans take on Ohio State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“It’s been fun,” Cook said. “I just thank the coaches for the opportunity. To be a starting quarterback in the Big Ten, it’s unreal.”

How good has Cook been?

In 11 starts, Cook has completed 171-of-288 passes for 2,077 yards, 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s the first Spartan QB to win eight of his first nine starts since Jimmy Raye in 1966 and the first since Brian Hoyer in 2007 to throw for four TDs in a game — a feat Cook accomplished in a 55-17 win over Youngstown State.

When Michigan State needed him the most, Cook answered by going 16-for-23 for a career-best 293 yards and a pair of scores — despite playing in wind gusts of over 20 mph — in a 30-6 victory over Northwestern to claim the Legends Division title.

“We have good chemistry. It was just a question of believing in ourselves and each other,” Cook said of taking the starting gig. “Stepping up and being a leader was not that difficult because I’ve been real tight with these guys.”

Cook’s family is no stranger to college athletics. His sister Jackie, a former Highland and Regina standout, recently completed her basketball career at Old Dominion. His father Chris was a three-year football letterwinner at Indiana, while his mother Donna played basketball at Cincinnati.

Pedigree aside, it will be different for Cook on Saturday when he’s staring across the line at the same Buckeyes team he grew up watching while living in Northeastern Ohio.

“There’s definitely an extra edge with being from Ohio, and a lot of my friends from high school go to Ohio State,” he said. “Obviously, this game is already big, big enough, but having those ties and extra people associated to the university makes the game a lot bigger. I think it’ll be fun.”

The Buckeyes come into the game winners of their last 24 games and are a 5½-point favorite, but Cook said his team isn’t getting caught up in OSU’s hype or the national attention.

Silencing the naysayer’s is nothing new for the quarterback and a Spartans offense that came into the season an afterthought behind a defense that leads the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in several statistical categories.

“There has been a lot of doubt about us this year, and we’ve responded,” Cook said. “The pressure isn’t on us (Saturday). It’s on Ohio State, and I like that position.”

Contact Dan Brown at sports@medina-gazette.com.