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East Lansing — To Michigan State opponents, center Jack Allen is one of the most intense players they face.

The junior doesn't exactly make a lot of friends on game day, and as offensive line coach Mark Staten said, Allen "plays with a nasty edge every play, every series and every game."

To his teammates, Allen is all of that — and more.

"Jack is awesome off the field," senior guard Travis Jackson said. "Once he's on the field he is intense."

And while that might get under the skin of some opponents, Allen's play has been one of the biggest reasons Michigan State is one of the top offenses in the nation heading into its Cotton Bowl matchup against Baylor. Through 12 games, Michigan State is averaging 43.1 points, seventh in the nation.

The Spartans also have scored more points (517) than any other team in school history.

"It starts and ends with him," senior running back Jeremy Langford said.

That's lofty praise for a team that features some of the best skill players in the Big Ten — Langford has run for more than 100 yards in 16 straight Big Ten games, and has 19 touchdowns; quarterback Connor Cook leads the conference at 241.7 passing yards; and receiver Tony Lippett scored 11 touchdowns and leads the conference at 93.7 yards.

And despite missing two games with an injury, Allen has drawn plenty of attention himself. He was named first-team all-Big Ten by the coaches and media, the first time a Michigan State center has been on the first team since Jason Strayhorn in 1998.

Allen was also a first-team All-American (USA Today) and a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's top center.

"It means a lot, but same time it's just on paper," Allen said of the recognition. "It doesn't matter when we get out on the field."

And that's a place Allen has been impressive since he started 12 of 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and was named a freshman All-American by the Sporting News and Football Writers Association of America.

He started the last 12 games last season, and steadily has become one of the most dominant interior players in the Big Ten. It's the sort of attention he notices when officials remind him early in games they'll be watching him.

But to Allen, that's life as an offensive lineman — pushing the envelope every play in an effort to get his team in the end zone.

"Not a lot of people notice it about linemen," Allen said. "But I'll look and watch other games and a play will go and you see a lineman looking around for the flag like, 'Did I get away with it?' Then you see someone go for a 40-yard touchdown and you're like, 'Yeah.' "

Allen was pumping his fist as he said it, a stark difference to the reaction he had late in the first half against Ohio State. It was then Langford scored a touchdown that would have given the Spartans a two-touchdown lead just before halftime.

Instead, Allen was called for holding, and three plays later the Buckeyes tied the game en route to a 49-37 victory.

"I saw that when I was on the ground," Allen said. "I was like, 'Aw (dang).' "

But he doesn't beat himself up about it. There's no guarantee the game would have ended differently if he wouldn't have been flagged, and even though it was a big swing, he still has the confidence of his coaches and teammates.

"Playing next to a guy like that is a lot of fun," Jackson said. "He is intense and he has anyone's back and that is important. He's going to be a big-time leader on this team next year and definitely deserves every award he gets. He's the kind of guy that leads the offensive line."

But one more game remains before next year, and there's little doubt Allen will enter the Baylor showdown with as much intensity as he does any other game.

"It's definitely a big challenge and we're excited to be in the Cotton Bowl," he said. "It's a challenge for the whole offense and the defense."

And it could be just as big a challenge for the Bears to contain Allen.

"He sets the whole offense," sophomore tackle Jack Conklin said. "The offense starts with him."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Cotton Bowl

Baylor vs.

Michigan State

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Jan. 1, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV/radio: ESPN/WJR

Records: No. 5 Baylor 11-1, No. 8 Michigan State 10-2

Line: Baylor by 3

Series: Michigan State leads 1-0 (Michigan State 28-10, Sept. 28, 1968)

Tickets: Available at msuspartans.com or by calling (800) GO-STATE or (517) 355-1610.

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