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Spartan race

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    Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty fumbled the ball as Michigan State defensive lineman Joel Heath, left, and defensive end Shilique Calhoun made the sack during the second half of the Cotton Bowl on Thursday.
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ARLINGTON, Texas » Connor Cook and the Michigan State Spartans want to have a different role in the playoff talk next season.

With their big comeback finish in the Cotton Bowl, the No. 7 Spartans could be set up as a viable championship contender next season, after their only losses this season were to playoff teams.

Michigan State scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter on New Year’s Day to beat playoff-snubbed and No. 4 Baylor 42-41 in the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl ever.

"For us to win in such an emotional and dramatic fashion like you just saw out there, really just I think with all the guys coming back, all the juniors, really just makes us feel good and brings us closer together," said Cook, who threw a 10-yard TD pass to Keith Mumphery with 17 seconds left.

Michigan State (11-2), which won the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champions last season, has won four consecutive bowl games after trailing in each of them at halftime. The Spartans’ only two losses this season were to Pac-12 winner Oregon and Big Ten champ Ohio State.

Down 41-21 going into the fourth quarter, Michigan State got the winning touchdown after Marcus Rush blocked Chris Callahan’s 43-yard field goal attempt with 1:05 left.

"It’s just sort of crazy," coach Mark Dantonio said. "I really probably can’t put it into words. We just kept pace. We didn’t panic."

When two-time Big 12 champ Baylor got the ball back for one last try, Bryce Petty was sacked on consecutive plays before Riley Bullough’s clinching interception.

That was quite a final defensive stand under coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who after 11 seasons and two schools with Dantonio is leaving the Spartans to take over as head coach at Pittsburgh. Narduzzi will be about 20 miles away Friday to watch the Panthers play Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on the TCU campus.

The Cotton Bowl was the lead-in game Thursday to the two national semifinals that Baylor (11-2) hoped to be part of instead — though that doesn’t matter now.

"We’ve played a lot of really good games over the last seven seasons. Won a lot of really good games. And this is one of the tougher non-wins that I’ve ever experienced," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "It’s got nothing to do with the big picture. The small picture right now is letting a game get away from us today."

Stephen Hawkins, Associated Press

 

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