LOS ANGELES (AP) — Alabama is going to play for its fourth national championship in the past seven seasons, after winning the Cotton Bowl 38-0 over Michigan State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide will play No. 1 Clemson in Arizona on Jan. 11.
No team has won more AP national championships that Alabama’s nine. The Crimson Tide were national champs in 2009, 2011 and 2012, after having not won a title since 1992 before that.
After losing to Ohio State in a CFP semifinal last season, the Crimson Tide were all business in their second trip this season to AT&T Stadium. They started this season with a 35-17 win against Wisconsin, another Big Ten team, on Sept. 5.
Connor Cook ended the year with a fizzle in the Cotton Bowl after starting it with a bang in the same stadium.
Unfortunately for No. 3 Michigan State’s senior quarterback, the stakes were substantially higher the second time around.
Cook was off target on some throws, had several others batted down and threw an interception to ruin a scoring chance in a 38-0 loss to No. 2 Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday night.
The performance was in stark contrast to 364 days earlier, when Cook had two touchdown passes to help wipe out a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter of a 42-41 victory over Baylor on New Year’s Day.
When he left the home of the Dallas Cowboys after leading a winning drive in the final minute, Cook had every intention of getting the Spartans in the playoff a year later.
Cook, the No. 2 active quarterback in FBS victories with 34, helped make it happen. But he wilted under the pressure of Alabama’s 11-deep defensive line Thursday night, getting sacked four times and finishing 19 of 39 for 210 yards with two interceptions in just his fifth career loss.
Michigan State’s winningest quarterback missed badly several times while starting 4 of 11. When Cook finally found a rhythm and had the Spartans at the Alabama 12 trailing 10-0 in the final seconds of the first half, he underthrew Aaron Burnbridge for an easy interception by Cyrus Jones near the goal line.
The Spartans (12-2) looked the part of a 10-point underdog despite coming in with at least 11 wins in five of the past six seasons, and consecutive victories in major bowls starting with the Rose Bowl two seasons ago.
The Crimson Tide (13-1) kept the pressure on Cook by limiting the Spartans to 29 yards rushing on 26 attempts, which included 29 yards in sacks of Cook. The first sack, by Jonathan Allen, ended a promising drive during a scoreless first quarter.
Michigan State’s leading rusher was Damion Terry with 14 yards on just one meaningless fourth-quarter carry.
The Spartans held Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry to 75 yards rushing, but paid for it in the passing game. Jake Coker was 25 of 30 for 286 yards with two touchdowns.
The fourth sack of Cook was a 10-yarder on an intentional grounding penalty when he tried to chunk the ball as he was driven into the turf on his back by Tim Williams. Michigan State had to punt from its 3, and Jones returned it 57 yards for a 24-0 lead late in the third quarter.
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