A year later, Cotton feels 'a little different' for MSU

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — Michigan State has been here before — literally.

It's been nearly one year on the nose it beat Baylor in the 2015 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, and now it is back to take on Alabama as part of the College Football Playoff.

It's that stage — one of two national semifinals — the Spartans haven't quite been on, but they insist the moment isn't too big.

"It's a little different," Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said. "We've played in the stadium before, so that, obviously, has an advantage. And this whole senior class, I think we're experienced on stages that we've played on. We've played in the Big Ten Championship game twice. We've played in this game once last year, the only difference being is that this is a playoff game now.

"We played in the Rose Bowl. We played at Oregon. We've played at Ohio State. We've played in big-time venues, so that will obviously help us."

As big as the Cotton Bowl was last season, there's a different feel around the game this year. With the winner getting a spot in the national championship game, there is much more at stake.

But the key for Michigan State all week is keeping things simple and routine.

Spartans in position to stick among nation's elite

"It does kind of have a little different vibe to it seeing the playoff logo on the field and stuff and just the buzz of the hotel and everything else that we've done," Cook said. "So there's a little minor difference. But, ultimately, it's just another football game."

Added linebacker Riley Bullough: "It's kind of weird because games you feel like, 'All right, this is the last game. This is it.' But our mindset is this isn't. We have more to come. And I think all four teams in this playoff feel that way. So it's a little bit different, but still preparing the same way."

Dantonio goes bowling

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is making his 24th postseason appearance as a coach, including 20 bowls and four berths in the Division I-AA playoffs.

Dantonio is 10-9 in bowls and is 5-4 as a coach. He entered Thursday's Cotton Bowl with a 4-4 mark at Michigan State — winning the last four — and has one win during his time at Cincinnati, which beat Marshall, 32-14, in the Fort Worth Bowl in 2004.

His nine appearances in a bowl is a Michigan State record, bettering the seven George Perles coached. His nine-game streak is tied for fifth-longest by an active coach at one school and it is the longest in the Big Ten.

Extra points

Ten of Michigan State's 13 opponents this season played in bowls, with the Spartans winning nine.

The only loss came to Nebraska, a team that finished 5-7 but qualified for the Foster Farms Bowl and beat UCLA, 37-29.

… Cook entered the game needing two touchdown passes to move past Kirk Cousins (25, 2011) for the most in a single season in Michigan State history.

… Cook also needed one 300-yard passing game to pass to move past Jeff Smoker (10) on the career list.

… Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge needs one 100-yard receiving game to tie B.J. Cunningham (2011) for the most in a season with eight.