Big Ten

Chip on Cook, Michigan State's shoulder never going away

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Chip on Cook, Michigan State's shoulder never going away

Shilique Calhoun knew the question before a reporter could even get it out of his mouth.

"I know your question, I know your question," Calhoun started. "'Since you guys are highly ranked this year and you guys have been doing well, do you still think you're an underdog?'

"Yes!"

Disrespect isn't a new taste at Michigan State. It's a permanent one that the team brings with them to practice and games every day and it's still been lingering even after a Rose Bowl win over Stanford in 2013. 

"We feel like we are overlooked a little bit but honestly it’s nothing different ever since I’ve been at Michigan State," senior quarterback Connor Cook said. "Even after we won the Rose Bowl, won the Big Ten, we didn’t really get the respect we deserve. People still kind of overlook us. Other teams that we finished in front of that year were ranked ahead of us in preseason polls. Nothing’s really changed. We’re going to have a chip on our shoulder no matter what the circumstances are." 

[MORE B1G: Spartans' Calhoun says he is Big Ten's best DL over Buckeyes' Bosa]

Hours before the Michigan State Spartans hopped in front of microphones at Big Ten Media Day, the Amway Coaches Poll was released, listing the Spartans at No. 6 behind Ohio State and Baylor, the team Michigan State beat in the Cotton Bowl last year. 

The high ranking is certainly well-deserved after the way 2014 finished in East Lansing and the return of Cook and Calhoun for their senior years. 

"He (Calhoun) and Connor were probably two of the biggest things that happened to Michigan State in the offseason," coach Mark Dantonio said.

[MORE B1G: Badgers RB Corey Clement tired of Gordon comparisons, wants to pave own path]

While Calhoun will be leading the madness on defense, Cook will look to take that next step as a quarterback in his final year. Luckily for him, he's protected by an offensive line group led by center Jack Allen and tackle Jack Conklin (both of whom Cook believes are the best at their positions in the entire country) that is loaded with experience and chemistry, the ideal combination for success in the trenches. 

"Chemistry wise, playing next to each other, Coach D does a good job of mixing it up and guys get comfortable playing multiple positions next to multiple people so you don’t have a guy that just plays right guard or just plays center or just plays left guard," Allen said. "There’s guys who can play a bunch of positions and they’re comfortable at all of them."

With the departure of Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphrey and Jeremy Langford, Cook will be surrounded by new skill players on offense. The offensive line knows it has the ability to open up holes for anyone in the backfield but the Spartans' senior signal caller is putting the pressure on himself to take his team to the next level.

"Connor Cook's got to finish," Cook said.

[MORE B1G: Tim Beckman dodges while players support embattled Illinois coach]

Whispers of a Heisman trophy for Cook are running through the streets of East Lansing. Dantonio is confident that his quarterback won't let the noise get to him heading into the season but knows that he's got something to prove in his final games as a Spartan.

"I think he's come back with the idea that there are things left to prove," Dantonio said. "And he's going to continue to take his game to a higher level. And that's exciting because I think that the makeup of our football team, I think, in general is, you know, keep trying to strive forward, keep trying to move the process forward, and be as good as you can possibly be."

The Spartans' motto for 2015 is "Reaching Higher", a fitting mark for a team that is still hungry for respect as they feel their experienced team is battle-tested for what is coming in the fall. Calhoun doesn't care how the chip ends up on the team's shoulder. He just knows it's not going away anytime soon.

"If it’s not America giving us our chip, it’s ourselves," Calhoun said. "We find a way."

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.