INSIDE THE PLAYOFF: Cook savors final games as Spartans QB
During the trophy presentation after Michigan State won the Big Ten championship game, senior quarterback Connor Cook stared skyward just to watch the confetti falling from the sky.
After the regular-season finale, his last game at Spartan Stadium, Cook ran around the stadium high-fiving anyone in reach.
''Just trying to savor moments like that,'' said Cook, the senior who is 34-4 as a starter for the Spartans, including two Big Ten titles and a Rose Bowl victory.
Cook said Monday that he spoke with his parents before the season, and their advice to him was to ''sit back and smell the roses, and take it all in.'' He said it is amazing to be part of an incredible run of success at Michigan State.
The No. 3 Spartans play in the Cotton Bowl for the second consecutive season. The game this year is a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against No. 2 Alabama for a spot in the national championship game.
''He's lost four games here as a starter,'' co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. ''If you can add a national championship title to it, there's probably nothing better.''
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney got a special treat before Monday's practice.
Hall of Famer Dan Marino stopped by Nova Southeastern University to visit with the Tigers, who held their next-to-last workout before facing Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on New Year's Eve.
''He's awesome,'' Swinney said. ''He's from my era. I grew up in the `80s and `90s watching him play. He's one of the best to ever lace `em up. Really neat to spend a little time with him.''
Marino spent his entire NFL career in south Florida, retiring in 2000 after 17 seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
For those looking forward to another confrontation between Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard and Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander before the Orange Bowl, forget about it.
Turns out, momma knows best.
Shepard said Monday he's toned down some of his antics at the request of his mother, especially after a much-publicized encounter with Alexander during pre-game warmups at last year's Russell Athletic Bowl.
''My mom noticed it,'' Shepard said. ''She was like, `I don't like you doing all that talking at the beginning. Just let your game do the talking.' I was like, `Yeah, I guess you're right.' She knows best. She's never steered me wrong. I kind of took that approach to this season and it's working out.''
Shepard is Baker Mayfield's favorite target in the Sooners' high-powered offense, coming into the Orange Bowl with 79 receptions for 1,201 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Last year, after some major jawing with Alexander before the game, Shepard was held to one catch with 13 yards. He was coming back from a torn adductor, which made it even tougher to compete against Clemson's star cornerback.
Shepard is looking forward to the rematch.
''It should be fun,'' he said. ''I'm feeling 10 times better than I was last season.''
Richard Mullaney wanted a chance to play for a national championship in his final season.
That wouldn't have happened if the receiver had stayed at Oregon State.
While the Beavers went 2-10 this season and didn't win a Pac-12 game, Mullaney has 34 catches and five touchdowns for No. 2 Alabama (12-1)
Mullaney transferred to Alabama last summer after graduating from Oregon State. He has played in all 13 games, and started six, for the No. 2 Crimson Tide, who play No. 3 Michigan State in a national semifinal on New Year's Eve in the Cotton Bowl.
''Walking in the locker room, I was a little intimidated. Obviously, it's Alabama, top-tier guys, five-star, Under Armour, All-America guys. I wasn't that. I knew I needed to work really hard. I'm just glad I came here,'' he said. ''It's Alabama. They're always playing big games, and I wanted to win a national championship.''
Alabama is the only team that made the initial four-team College Football Playoff last season and then made it again this season.
Mullaney, a California native, had 52 catches for 788 yards as a sophomore at Oregon State in 2013. But his junior season was shortened by an elbow injury. He's kept in touch with several of his former Beavers teammates throughout the season, and said that they're happy for him and ''just kind of living through me.''
Mullaney said his parents and his brother who just graduated from San Diego State plan to attend the Cotton Bowl, along with his uncle, high school coach and a ''whole crew of buddies.'' But his sister who goes to Arizona won't make it - she's preparing to go study abroad.
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry said Mullaney has meant a lot to the Crimson Tide, who after last season lost their top three receivers, including Amari Cooper, the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft after 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns.
''He's a very efficient and consistent receiver. He does a great job,'' Henry said of Mullaney. ''I'm glad he's had a great year, and glad he's with us.''
Newberry contributed to this report from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Hawkins contributed from Dallas
For more from inside the College Football Playoff, visit AP Now: College Football at http://collegefootball.ap.org/ap-now-college-football.