This Saturday, marking Week 2 of 2014, Cook will jog onto the field at Autzen Stadium, making start No. 15 of his career – but despite being in his first full season as a starting quarterback, Cook already is making a case for being a big-game quarterback.
With Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl MVP awards to his name, it is easy to see why offensive coordinator Dave Warner says he thinks Cook is ready for anything.
“He was on the big stage a couple of times last year and he stepped up and played well so there is no reason to believe he can’t handle any situation,” he said.
Defensive end Shilique Calhoun took it a little bit beyond that, saying he has come to expect a lot out of Cook on the big stage in big games.
“I expect greatness out of that man,” Calhoun said. “He came out and did his thing in the Rose Bowl, so we expect him to have an excellent game.
”Each and every game I feel like he should come out and be dominant. It’s another game we expect him to come out and show his talents.”
That expectation for Cook has been steadily built since he took hold of the starting quarterback spot early last season. He got the ball rolling two weeks after a 17-13 loss to Notre Dame, as he threw for a then career-high 277 yards in a hostile road game at Iowa.
That game propelled the Spartans through Big Ten play, as Cook led them to ten straight wins – nine of which were conference games. The pinnacle came late, as Cook had his first 300-yard passing performance against Ohio State with 304 and three touchdowns as Michigan State won 34-24 and headed to Pasadena.
In Pasadena, Cook again set a career high in yards with 332 and completed more than 60 percent of his passes for the second straight game as the Spartans claimed the Rose Bowl.
But those numbers are not what concerns Cook in big-time games. He just wants to win.
”I was talking to Tony (Lippett), it doesn’t matter if it’s 13-10, if we win 5-2, I could care less what my stats are – I just want to win,” he said.
Cook, admittedly, is prepared for the national spotlight that will come Saturday with College GameDay in town for a No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 7 Michigan State matchup.
Lippett said what makes Cook good in big-game situations is that he is no different than he is everyday.
”During the game, he’s always the same,” Lippett said. “He’s always as he comes off the field, he goes and sits in one spot and relaxes. He looks the same all the time, no matter what the play is or anything. No matter what happens.
”That’s a good thing, you can never get too high or get too low, you can always look to get better and that’s one thing he always does.”
The ultimate example of that level demeanor came in the Rose Bowl after Cook threw a pick-six shortly before halftime. He went to the sideline and came back to lead the Spartans to a touchdown drive with 28 seconds before halftime.
It was the type of bounce back that leads coach Mark Dantonio to consistently refer to Cook as “resilient,” which he did again Tuesday adding that he does not think the quarterback has missed a beat.
”I think Connor Cook picked up where he left off last year,” Dantonio said.
Calhoun said the experiences of last season have Cook ready to be in the spotlight once again, but his growth also is evident.
”After last year it just shows he has been growing up as not only a person but as a player and you can see that growth everyday when we go out to practice,” he said. “Even when we are in film room, he is in there trying to coach us up. We definitely talk on a daily basis on how we need to get better and how we need to do this.
”He is definitely one of those leaders that you didn’t see early on because he wasn’t sure of himself because of the whole quarterback situation. You can see it now. You can see that he understands how he needs to play and he effects this team if he is progressive and if he is coming out being as outspoken as he should be.”
Come Saturday, the Spartans are going to be looking for that outspoken leader and resilient quarterback on the big stage once again. Whether that results in big stats or just leading Michigan State to a win, Cook is just going to be out to do whatever he can.
“It’s a big time environment, against a big time opponent, this could be a really big game for us,” Cook said, “but I’m just going to try to go in and do whatever I possibly can to get my mind right, get ready, and do whatever I can to win by any means.”