These 4 standouts can keep Spartans in playoff contention
The late, controversial loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers on the road last Saturday is the type of defeat which could have ended Michigan State’s College Football Playoff hopes. However, the door has not closed entirely just yet, and if the Spartans can win out they’ll have wins over Michigan, Ohio State, and likely Iowa in the conference championship game. All three of those teams are likely to finish in the Top 25, which would be a big boost for Michigan State.
Why should anyone believe they can run the table from here on out? With games against the Buckeyes and possibly the Hawkeyes — neither of which currently have any losses to their names — it is no small task. Well, despite the loss to Nebraska — a team the Spartans realistically should have beaten comfortably — you can make the case that they are the most talented team in the conference thanks to four Spartans who stand out and power the team:
Connor Cook, quarterback: +26.6
Only five quarterbacks in the nation have a higher grade as a passer than Cook, who had a particularly strong stretch of play the three weeks before the loss to Nebraska, where no quarterback in the nation graded as highly. Cook has really impressed throwing the ball downfield, going 30-for-54 for 839 yards, with seven touchdowns and one interception. He’s handled the blitz well too, with 10 touchdowns and just one interception on plays where the opposing defense sends extra men. It also helps that he has one of the nation’s best receivers to throw to.
Aaron Burbridge, wide receiver: +22.5
When talking about the best wide receivers in all of college football, the go-to names appear to be TCU’s Josh Doctson and Baylor’s Corey Coleman — both very good receivers. Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge has really stood out within the PFF data however, and is currently our third-highest graded receiver. He has emerged as one of the premier big-play threats in the nation, catching all 15 of the catchable passes of 20 yards or more thrown his way, and racking up 439 yards and three touchdowns.
Jack Conklin, offensive tackle: +20.2
The picture of consistency, left tackle Conklin has just one negatively-graded game (a mere -0.4) since the beginning of the 2014 season. He’s proved himself as an impressive blocker, both in the run game and in pass protection. Protecting Connor Cook’s blindside, he has allowed just 12 total pressures in his past 679 pass blocking snaps, including three from 246 this season. That gives him a pass blocking efficiency rating of 99.0 — the third best mark in the nation this year.
Shilique Calhoun, defensive end: +27.1
In a season where we’ve seen outstanding performances from Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and Missouri’s Charles Harris to name but a few, no edge defender has a higher pass rushing grade than the Spartans Shilique Calhoun. He’s been relentless going after the quarterback this season, with nine sacks, 11 hits and 36 hurries from 340 pass-rushing snaps in 2015 so far. This comes after racking up eight sacks, 20 hits and 38 hurries in 2014, showcasing himself as one of the most devastating pass rushers around in the past two seasons.