MSU’s Conklin provides no clues to his plans

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — Michigan State’s 38-0 loss to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday was the end of a heck of a run for 23 seniors.

The class finished its career with a 43-11 mark, the most wins of any class in Michigan State history.

But one of the biggest questions moving forward for the Spartans was whether one of their juniors had played his final game, as well.

Left tackle Jack Conklin is projected by most to be a first-round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft if he decides to forgo his final season at Michigan State, but he wasn’t thinking about that decision on Thursday night.

“There’s a deadline coming up, I’m sure,” Conklin said. “Right now in the next couple days, I’m gonna be with my family — with my brothers here. Ultimately, I’ll make the decision with my family, talk to coaches.

“As of now, it’s about Michigan State still, and being here with my brothers.”

Conklin (6-foot-6, 325 pounds) was named a first-team All-American this season by The Sporting News and USA Today while also being named first-team All-Big Ten.

If Conklin were to leave, Michigan State would lose three starters off the offensive line as center Jack Allen and right guard Donavon Clark have graduated. But for offensive line coach Mark Staten, there is no pushing one of his best players in either direction.

“We’ve talked about it and we have a great relationship,” Staten said. “That room is like a family and they’re all like my kids. He and I have talked about it and he knows and we know what he needs to accomplish. He knows where he’ll be should he choose to stay or choose to leave.

“But that’s on him. I’m not pressuring him. I’ll love him either way, till the day he dies or I die. That’s how I keep things with my players.”

Seniors moment

The Spartans seniors ended their careers with their first bowl loss after being part of three straight victories for the Spartans.

“It hasn’t really set in yet,” said Allen, an All-American as a senior.

There wasn’t much said after the game, Allen said, noting he and Cook just hugged and said they’d see each other soon.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” Allen said, “but at the same time going out like this is not very fun.”

Cook was doing his best to think about the positives, including his 34-5 mark as a starter.

“It’s just been so fun,” Cook said. “The ride has been so fun. And the last thing I want to do is look at the downside and say, ‘Our last game as Spartans we lost.’ We want to be positive people. We want to look at the bright side. We’re just so lucky to play for Coach D and all the other coaches.

“That’s the only thing I’m trying to focus on right now, is the positives and how much fun we’ve had and the whole journey. Walking in as a freshman, I would have never experienced or never expected to have an experience like this.”

Saban sees growth

Michigan State has now lost two games to Alabama by a combined score of 87-7. But Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban doesn’t think the games were the same.

He sees a significant difference in this Michigan State team as opposed to the one his team beat in the 2011 Capital One Bowl.

“I think that Michigan State’s program has improved and kept growing,” Saban said. “And I think Mark and his staff have done a great job of getting better and better players.

“I think that we made some big plays in the game today and I think that was the difference in the game. It could have been 10-7 at halftime, which tells me that they’ve got a really good team and a really good program.

“I don’t like to make comparisons, but I see a lot of improvement in quality of player, size of player. They got a really good defensive front. We struggled to run the ball against them. Fine quarterback. Good skill guys. … I think they have a really good team and a really good program, and I see a huge difference in the five years.”

Who’s your Tider?

The most notable Alabama fan with Metro Detroit ties is former Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who played baseball for the Crimson Tide.

Asked for his thoughts on the blowout, he texted The News: “SEC football! It’s crazy how dominating they are. They have one more on the 11th, but I’m smoking a victory cigar tonight.”

Avila will take his Alabama fandom to Chicago, where he signed this offseason to catch for the White Sox.

Cook’s special

With an 18-yard completion to tight end Josiah Price, Cook became Michigan State’s all-time leader in passing yards. He surpassed Kirk Cousins and finished his career with 9,194 yards.

Cook also became Michigan State’s all-time leader in total offense (9,204) and touchdown passes (71).