Spartans "rise from the ashes"

Michigan State offense emerges week by week and books a trip to Indianapolis to play for a title.

Standing inside a cramped room below Northwestern's Ryan Field, Jeremy Langford was handed a Legends Division champions hat midway through a postgame interview.

"I love the hat," he said. "I hope I will be able to switch it out in a couple weeks."

Waiting in the wings was Connor Cook, standing in a nearby hallway, staring down at the hat in his hands.

It was fitting for the pair, who represent the progress and development of this Michigan State team as much as anyone could.

"This football team has sort of risen," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We've sort of risen from the ashes a little bit – driven our way to the top. We've sort of scrambled to the top. We've got some guys that didn't play as much last year, like Langford, like Connor Cook."

They have played plenty this year and with each passing week have continued to rise, much like the offense as a whole.

Behind Langford's second straight game with 150 rushing yards or more – and sixth in a row with more than 100 – and Cook's efficient 15 of 23 passing performance for a career-high 287 yards with two touchdowns, the Spartans rolled over Northwestern 30-6 and locked up an outright division title for the second time in three years.

"I'm so happy and so proud of the guys that we have on offense for all the criticism that we took earlier on in the year," Cook said. "Just putting our heads down and working so hard and not letting the criticism and the harsh words the media was saying and fans were saying and just kept working."

A few months ago, the public perception of the MSU offense wasn't high for a team coming off a lackluster 7-6 2012 season.

Inside the building, though, the confidence was there.

"I knew it was going to be a great year throughout the offseason," said linebacker Denicos Allen, who helped MSU keep an opponent out of the end zone for the fourth time in five games. "Our preparation throughout the offseason and our mentality going into the season. Last year really hurt us. We promised ourselves that we weren't going to go through that again."

And yet another Saturday came and went as the Spartans showed 2012 is long gone – and Cook and Langford provided the proof of that again.

The junior running back got MSU on the board with a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter on a drive in which he accounted for 69 yards and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season.

Not long after that, Cook called for an audible on a third down deep in MSU territory and threw a wobbly pass down the sideline to Bennie Fowler, who reeled it in reaching over the defensive back with one hand and he was off to the races for an 87-yard touchdown.

Langford added another score – a 37-yarder – in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring for the 10-1 Spartans, who are 7-0 in Big Ten play for the third time in program history (1965, 66) and the celebration was on.

With a spot in the Big Ten Championship locked up again, but one game remaining in the regular season, the Spartans still have something to play for next weekend in East Lansing.

"I feel like we are playing for a BCS game next week," Dantonio said. "We will worry about the championship game the week after. There's no reason to play that game this week. We need to play Minnesota this week."

But, for now, the Spartans can soak up booking a return trip to Indianapolis to play for another Big Ten championship.

"We've got this hat on," Dantonio said. "Hopefully, we will wear it for a couple weeks then trade it in, but we will see."

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