Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, July 30, 2015

CHICAGO - Connor Cook is having a blast. Why not? He is in Chicago on a bright and sunny day in late July posing for a group selfie with teammates between conducting TV interviews. He?s a young, handsome BMOC with a cannon arm. He is a Heisman Trophy contender.

And I believe he is also the best player in the Big Ten.

That?s correct: The best player in the Big Ten. Better than Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. Better than Buckeye defensive end Joey Bosa. 

Better ? than ? all … of ? them.


?Connor is a key player for us, no doubt,? says Michigan State center Jack Allen, who is trusted with protecting the prized Spartan.

Cook was pretty good last season. He hit 58.1 percent of his passes for a league-high 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Cook also ranked second in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (149.4).

?I think that Connor has done a remarkable job, extraordinary job throughout his time,? said Mark Dantonio. ?Came on the scene in 2013 and capped off the season with an MVP in the Rose Bowl as a sophomore and then MVP in the Big Ten Championship game as well.?

Cook never will have to buy another meal in East Lansing the rest of his life.

?It was good,? said Cook.

To review: Cook led the Spartans to an 11-2 record capped by a scintillating Cotton Bowl win vs. Baylor en route to a No. 5 final ranking in 2014. MSU?s only two losses? They came vs. the teams that played for the national championship: Oregon and Ohio State. This year, the bar is higher.

?It has to be,? says Cook. ?We all have goals and want to do our best and reach the top.?


MSU may do that this year-but you wouldn?t know it from the preseason chatter. It?s all about defending national champion Ohio State, which returns a loaded squad and is expected to be No. 1 in the nation in 2015 when the polls come out. And if the Buckeyes aren?t hogging the headlines, it?s Michigan and new coach Jim Harbaugh and his Twitter account.

?Since I have been at MSU, it always has been like that,? said Allen. ?We get brushed under the rug and forgotten. It is normal, underdogs, no one really believes in us. It isn?t much of different feeling.?

Hard to believe when you consider Michigan State has gone 53-14 overall the last five years and 32-8 in the Big Ten with Rose and Cotton Bowl victories along with two Big Ten titles.

?Are we being overlooked?? star MSU defensive end Shilique Calhoun answered back to his questioner. ?I don?t know. I don?t worry about that stuff. We are just working on ourselves, trying to get better each day. And Connor is the same way.

?We came in together as recruits, so we have been around each other for a while. We know what it is like.?

Allen knows Cook even better than Calhoun. The two were roommates last year. And all was going well until Allen?s pet snake, Justice, got loose for five long, agonizing days.

?Connor was freaking out,? said Allen. ?He wanted to know where it was. He was keeping his doors shut, walking around cautiously.?

Finally, Allen found the snake during a 2 a.m. trip to the bathroom one morning. Crisis averted. Calm restored.
Cook redshirted in 2011 and then played as a backup in 2012 in three games. He came off the bench to complete 4-of-11 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in the game-winning drive in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over TCU. In 2012, Cook went 12-1 as the starter and never looked back. Now, he?s primed to leave campus as an all-time great.

Cook has started the last 26 games (23-3 record; 16-1 vs. Big Ten opponents. And he ranks among MSU?s all-time leaders in passing efficiency (third with 141.5 rating), 300-yard passing games (third with six), 200-yard passing games (tied for third with 18), touchdown passes (third with 47), total offense (fourth with 6,216 yards), passing yards (fifth with 6,063), pass completions (seventh with 444), pass attempts (eighth with 762) and pass completion percentage (ninth at .583).

?This past season did an outstanding job,? said Dantonio. ?Very few times was he sacked, not a lot of interceptions. But there's always room for improvement. I think he's come back with the idea that there are things left to prove. And he's going to continue to take his game to a higher level. And that's exciting because I think that the makeup of our football team, I think, in general is, you know, keep trying to strive forward, keep trying to move the process forward, and be as good as you can possibly be.

?So high expectations from our staff and from the general public. Very high expectations. Very high expectations from himself.?

But the season is still a few days away. Cook wants to enjoy these last few days before punctuating what may be one the greatest quarterbacking careers in Michigan State annals.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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