One year later, Cook's in a new experience

After splitting time in last year's bowl game, the sophomore is set to start the Rose Bowl after an up and down journey the past year.

Connor Cook couldn't be much more removed from playing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl just one day short of a year since his campaign to be the starter began.

On Saturday, he sat in the front of a room adorned with Rose Bowl logos in downtown Los Angeles. Stitched below the Spartan head on his jacket were the words "2013 Big Ten Champions."

Three hundred and sixty four days made quite a difference.

"It's been a roller coaster ride," Cook said Saturday. "The whole journey has just been hard work and dedication, just believing in yourself, and really just when no one else believes in you, when no one else has really given you an opportunity, just got to dig deep and work hard."

The ride began with a talk with Mark Dantonio, who informed Cook he would factor into the plans for the bowl game.

"He said he was going to give me one series in the game and what I did with that series was up to me," he said.

A redshirt freshman in his first real game action at the time, Cook was 1 of 3 passing on his first drive for six yards.

He went back in during the second half and led the team down the field for a touchdown -- on a drive keyed by a halfback pass from Le'Veon Bell for 29 yards.

He returned again to take the place of Andrew Maxwell for the final drive of the game with less than three minutes left and down 16-14 to Texas Christian.

Offensive coordinator – and quarterbacks coach at the time – Dave Warner said Cook earned the right to get back in.

" It was a situation, again, where Coach D and I talked, and the decision was made," Warner said. "Fortunately it worked out well."

Cook spurred the final drive with two quick completions for 26 yards and the drive ended in a game-winning field goal and Spartan fans began clamoring for a change come 2013.

Much of the reason why fans held faith in Cook was the same reason the coaches found value in him: Mobility and the ability toe create plays.

"After the bowl game, it was stressed to all the quarterbacks that that's what we're looking for," Warner said.

It wasn't a quick decision and Cook sputtered out of the gate in the fall. The sophomore went 12 of 27 for 74 yards with no touchdowns in the Spartans' first two games of 2013 as he sought to win the four-man battle to start.

But as he progressed, it became clear he was the player the Spartans were looking for to take control of the offense.

"As with any quarterback, you need to be able to do that to extend plays and scramble and so forth, but still make the right decisions," Warner said." As that developed within him, moving around and making those right decisions, he became more and more the guy that was going to lead our offense."

A 20-touchdown season, a second-team All-Big Ten honor and leading an undefeated Big Ten slate later, Cook is entering a bowl game with a different approach.

As the starter in the Rose Bowl – not splitting time in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl – Cook has stepped up his preparation and is taking it all in.

"Really I'm just watching a lot more film probably than I was last year and just taking it day by day," he said.

And with the granddaddy of them all on tap, it's little wonder that this time of year has looked a lot different for Cook.

"I don't want to say that the bowl last year wasn't really meaningful, but it's something that we harp on every single year, every single day back at Michigan State, to make it to the Rose Bowl, and we're finally here," he said.

"Really it's just a blessing to be here."


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