Press Release From Michigan State Athletics
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State fifth-year senior Connor Cook, who has thrown for 2,921 yards and 24 touchdowns while leading the Spartans (12-1) to an appearance in the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Alabama (12-1) in the Dec. 31 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, has been named recipient of the 2015 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, presented annually since 1987 to the nation’s top college quarterback. Cook, the winningest quarterback in school history, owns a 34-4 record (.895) as the starter, including a 23-2 mark (.920) against Big Ten opponents.
Candidates for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award must be college seniors or fourth-year juniors on schedule to graduate with their class. In addition to the accomplishments on the field, candidates are judged on their character, citizenship, scholarship achievement and leadership qualities. Other finalists for the 2015 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award included TCU’s Trevone Boykin, USC’s Cody Kessler, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.
Cook, who becomes just the second Big Ten quarterback (Wisconsin’s Scott Tolzien in 2010) to win the award, will be presented the trophy on Friday, Dec. 11 at the Embassy Suites Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel & The Grand.
His 34 wins are second most among active starting quarterbacks in the NCAA FBS (Stanford’s Kevin Hogan with 35), and Cook’s .895 winning percentage is No. 1 (minimum 24 starts). Cook is 5-1 against Associated Press Top 10 teams in his career, including 3-0 in 2015, and is 8-3 against AP Top 25 opponents. His 38 career starts are second most in MSU history, trailing only Kirk Cousins, who made 39 career starts from 2009-11.
Cook is the first Spartan quarterback to win the Greise-Brees Big Ten Quarterback of the Year Award since its inception in 2011, and is also the first Spartan QB be named first-team All-Big Ten since Steve Juday in 1965 and only the fifth ever in school history (Earl Morrall, 1955; James Ninowski, 1957; Dean Look, 1959; Juday, 1965). Cook was a second-team selection in 2013 and 2014.
Cook ranks among the Big Ten leaders in touchdown passes (tied for first with 24), passing efficiency (second with 142.2 rating), passing (third with 243.4 ypg.), and total offense (third with 250.1 ypg.). He became MSU’s all-time leader in touchdown passes after throwing four in the Nebraska game on Nov. 7; he has 71 overall (Cousins threw 66 from 2008-11), which is tied for seventh in Big Ten history. Cook has completed 57 percent of his passes (210-of-369) for 2,921 yards, 24 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 2015.
“Connor Cook is a proven winner,” MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said. “His 34-4 record as a starter is a tremendous statistic, and he’s played well on the big stage throughout his career. He has a big arm, quick release and good presence in the pocket. Connor has been very patient with his reads and has displayed remarkable accuracy in critical situations. He remains cool under pressure, and he has the knack for making plays when the game is on the line. Most importantly, he has been an outstanding game manager and leader. Connor is consistently playing at a high level, and he gives us a chance to win every game.”
“Connor Cook has a great competitive spirit about him,” MSU quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “Connor has played with great confidence and leadership this season. He knows what it takes to win at the quarterback position, and he has a very coachable personality. It has been fun to watch his progress as he’s grown every year as a complete quarterback, and he’s never satisfied with where he’s at. He’s a quarterback that seeks perfection on every rep, and he’s always looking for an edge. Connor understands the importance of preparation and knowing what to do in all situations. He has a very good feel for anticipating windows and locates the ball very well. Connor has enjoyed a great career at MSU, and he’s been a great leader for our program.”
Cook’s last season wearing the Green and White is shaping up to be his most productive in the record book. With 24 TDs already in 2015, he is just two away from passing Cousins (25) for the most in a Spartan single season. He established a school record by throwing for more than 300 yards in four consecutive games (367 vs. Rutgers; 328 vs. Michigan; career-high 398 vs. Indiana; 335 vs. Nebraska), and his 10 300-yard passing games are tied for first in school history, along with Smoker. The four 300-yard passing games are tied for second most in an MSU single season (record: Smoker with six in 2003). Cook is also nearing the career mark for most passing yards in school history. Cook, who is currently second with 8,984 yards, trails only Cousins (9,131).
The 6-4, 220-pound Cook earned his 28th career win in the victory over Purdue on Oct. 3, making him the winningest starting quarterback in school history. He passed Spartan signal-caller Kirk Cousins’ school-record mark of 27 career victories (27-12 record from 2009-11).
Cook became the first player in Big Ten history to win the Grange-Griffin Big Ten Championship Game Most Valuable Player Award twice (also won in 2013 vs. Ohio State) as he helped lead the Spartans past No. 4 Iowa, 16-13, to claim MSU’s second Big Ten title in three years. Cook completed 16-of-32 passes for 191 yards against the Hawkeyes, including a key 16-yard strike to Aaron Burbridge on third-and-8 during the game-winning touchdown drive. On that same drive, which lasted 22 plays and went 82 yards in 9:04, he also rushed 2 yards for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the Iowa 5-yard line with 1:59 remaining that set up LJ Scott’s 1-yard game-winning TD run with 27 seconds left. It marked Cook’s sixth fourth-quarter comeback for the Spartans (2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. TCU; 2013 vs. Ohio State in Big Ten Championship Game; 2014 Rose Bowl vs. Stanford; 2015 Cotton Bowl vs. Baylor; 2015 vs. Michigan, 2015 vs. Iowa in Big Ten Championship Game). Cook’s five career wins over AP Top 10 teams is second in school history (Juday with six from 1963-65).
The Hinckley, Ohio, native is ranked among MSU’s all-time leaders in 300-yard passing games (tied for first with 10), touchdown passes (first with 71), total offense (first with 9,217 yards), 200-yard passing games (second with 25), passing yards (second with 8,984), passing efficiency (third with 141.7 rating), pass attempts (second with 1,131), pass completions (third with 654), and pass completion percentage (ninth at .578).
Cook posted his seventh 200-yard passing game of the season and 25th of his career, hitting 19-of-26 throws for 248 yards and three touchdowns against Penn State on Senior Day in his final appearance at Spartan Stadium. With 243 total yards vs. PSU, Cook set MSU’s career record for total offense (9,018 yards; previous record – 9,004 yards by Cousins, 2008-11). He became the school’s all-time leader in total offense with his 16-yard completion to Shelton early in the fourth quarter.
Cook had his school-record streak of 36 consecutive starts snapped as he sat out the Ohio State game on Nov. 21 (sprained shoulder).
Cook tied a career high with four TD passes at Nebraska to set a Michigan State career record with 68, passing Cousins. Cook completed 23-of-37 passes for 335 yards and one interception along with his four TDs, and set a school record with his fourth straight 300-yard passing game (367 vs. Rutgers; 328 vs. Michigan; 398 vs. Indiana; 335 vs. Nebraska). He also tied Smoker for the most 300-yard passing games in a career with 10. Cook’s 335 passing yards were the most ever by a Spartan QB against Nebraska.
After setting a school record with 416 yards of total offense and throwing for a career-high 398 yards in Michigan State’s 52-26 win over Indiana in Week 8, Cook was named the Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career. Cook also set career highs for pass completions (30) and pass attempts (52) against the Hoosiers and tied his career best with four TD passes. He produced some of the top single-game passing totals in school history: completions (tied for sixth with 30), pass attempts (sixth with 52), passing yards (second with 398) and TD passes (tied for second with 4). The 398 passing yards were just two shy of MSU’s single-game record (Bill Burke, 400, vs. Michigan in 1999).
Cook became just the second Spartan starting quarterback to defeat Michigan three consecutive times (Cousins, 2009-11) in MSU’s 27-23 triumph at Michigan Stadium in Week 7. He threw his 60th career touchdown pass with a 30-yard pass to Macgarrett Kings Jr. in the third quarter and completed 18-of-39 passes overall for 328 yards.
Cook threw for 367 yards – the fifth-highest total in school history – and two touchdowns in the win at Rutgers in Week 6. His showing against the Scarlet Knights was named one of the “Great 8” performances of the week by the Davey O’Brien Award. With the score tied at 24 with 4:16 to play, Cook engineered a 10-play, 76-yard game-winning touchdown drive to lead MSU to a 31-24 win. His 29-yard completion on third-and-9 from the MSU 25 to Shelton kept the drive alive and led to Scott’s 3-yard TD run with 43 seconds remaining in the game.
In MSU’s 35-21 victory over Air Force on Sept. 19, Cook matched his career high with four TD passes and was 15-of-23 passing for 247 yards. He connected three times for scores with Burbridge, who tied MSU’s single-game touchdown reception record against the Falcons and was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
Cook completed 20-of-32 throws for 192 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-28 win over then-No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 12 in Spartan Stadium.
Cook and Dan Enos are the only two Spartan quarterbacks to win two bowl games as the starting quarterback (Cook: 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton; Enos: 1989 Aloha, 1990 Sun). Cook also led the Spartans on a game-winning drive in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU. Cook has led the Spartans to three-straight fourth-quarter comebacks in bowl games.
The Golden Arm Award is named in honor of the late Johnny Unitas, who threw for 3,007 yards and 27 touchdowns during his four-year collegiate career at Louisville (1951-54). He was selected in the ninth round (No. 102 overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1955 National Football League Draft. Unitas spent 18 years in the NFL (1956-73), including 17 seasons with the Baltimore Colts and one year with the San Diego Chargers, and completed 2,830-of-5,186 passes (.546) for 40,239 yards, 290 TDs and 253 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,777 yards and 13 scores. Unitas led the league in TD passes for four-straight seasons from 1957-60. He threw at least one TD pass in 47 consecutive games from 1956-60. A 10-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time first-team All-Pro, Unitas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.