Charboneau: One bad night can't erase MSU progress

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — Michigan State entered its Cotton Bowl matchup against Alabama on Thursday determined to prove to the college football world it belonged on the big stage.

The Spartans’ steady climb to the elite level, they hoped, would culminate by beating one of the most storied programs in the country led by their former coach who destroyed them the last time they met in a bowl.

Things didn’t turn out well for Michigan State, however, as Alabama cruised to a 38-0 victory, ending the Spartans four-game bowl winning streak.

News: Michigan State’s season lost a bit of shine because of the one-sided loss.

Views: That’s a bit of a harsh assessment considering what the Spartans did just to get to the College Football Playoff. As bad as Thursday’s performance was, it would be wrong to overlook the victories over Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa, especially considering the way Michigan State went into the Horseshoe and won without Connor Cook.

Let’s not forget, the game was still in the balance at halftime, and Alabama was highly motivated after losing at the same point last season to Ohio State.

It was a great season for Michigan State, just not the ultimate.

Spartans looking ahead after devastating loss

Michigan State's Madre London gets tackled by Dillon Lee after a first down.

News: Michigan State has a long way to go to be elite.

Views: Again, that idea is extreme, especially when comparing it to the last meeting with Alabama when the Crimson Tide physically destroyed the Spartans, 49-7, in the 2011 Capital One Bowl.

The 38-0 loss would suggest Michigan State hasn’t come that far, but five years of a program’s progress can’t be judged in one night.

The fact is, Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a contender and he’s had better teams than this one.

News: Connor Cook didn’t look like the same quarterback he was before injuring his shoulder.

Views: It’s difficult to argue that notion, and the numbers would suggest the same considering he was 19-for-39 for 210 yards and two interceptions. He missed open receivers and never looked comfortable in the pocket. The first interception was a poorly thrown ball we haven’t seen much from Cook.

He insisted after the game his shoulder was fine and he’s not planning any surgery, saying the injury was just a sprain. Cook, however, looked like a quarterback who wasn’t confident in the pocket. Some of that might have been because of the shoulder, though much of it was probably Alabama’s menacing pass-rush.

News: Connor Cook’s performance hurts his draft status.

Views: It could, but NFL scouts tend to trust their reports that are compiled over a period of time, not one game.

It was the biggest game of Cook’s career, but he’s never shied from the spotlight and has excelled. He was the best player on the field in at least one Big Ten championship game and bowl victories over Stanford and Baylor. It’s those performances that likely will stick with folks in the NFL more than one night against an outstanding defense with a shoulder that might or might not have been at its best.

News: Michigan State’s loss will hurt recruiting.

Views: There’s always a chance there is a prospect somewhere watching that might have been swayed, but that is likely someone not in the next class. For the group that will sign their national letters of intent in February, the more likely scenario is they see how close the team is to playing for a national championship and see themselves as missing pieces.

Mark Dantonio has put together his best class yet at Michigan State and several already have signed and will enroll this semester. If the Spartans continue to compete for championships, the loss to the Tide shouldn’t have too much of an affect.