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Connor Cook's CFB coach: QB won't be intimidated by playoffs

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Jack Del Rio isn't the only coach who is expressing faith in the ability of quarterback Connor Cook, who will become the first QB of the Super Bowl era to make his first career start in a playoff game on Saturday when the Raiders visit the Texans.

His former coach at Michigan State won't be surprised if Cook fares well, either.

"First of all, Connor has got a huge upside. He's played on a big stage. He was the Rose Bowl MVP when he was a sophomore. He was the MVP in the Big 10 Championship Game, just things of that nature," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio told NFL Network on Wednesday. "He's been in the spotlight. I know it's an elevated level of play and it's all relative, but he's played on a big stage and he's had a lot of anxiety, big-game jitters, and things like that, and he's played very well in those games. That's going to serve him as well as anything as he takes this opportunity and has an opportunity to play this weekend."

Cook has been thrust into the starting lineup due to injuries to starter Derek Carr and backup Matt McGloin. Complicating his challenge is that the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL will be waiting on him in Houston. The Texans allow an NFL-low 301 yards per game. In his first career action in Week 17, he completed 14 of 21 passes against the Denver Broncos in relief of McGloin, but was intercepted once and fumbled twice. But while turnovers might be a concern this week for Cook, given the circumstances, Dantonio doesn't see Cook being rattled by them if it happens.

"He's got a big arm. He can throw you open. He's a big guy, as they all probably are in that league, he's 6-4 plus, probably 230. But he's got a live arm. I think he prepares very well. He was very particular in terms of everything," Dantonio said. "He wanted to be right. Good at overcoming mistakes, that's as big as anything. He threw an interception and bounced back from that, and continued to play on through it. I don't think he's going to be intimidated by the scope of the game. That hasn't been a problem for him when he was here. I expect him to play very well."

For the Raiders' sake, he'd better.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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