Jan. 17, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State fifth-year senior wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol have accepted invitations to play in postseason all-star games, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21. Cunningham, MSU's all-time leader in receptions (218) and receiving yards (3,086), will participate in the 87th East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., while Nichol, who set career highs for catches (26), receiving yards (352) and touchdown receptions (3) in 2011, will compete in the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Collegiate Bowl at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Cunningham will represent the East Team, led by former San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions head coach Bobby Ross. NFL Network will televise Saturday's East-West Shrine Game at 4 p.m. EST.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Cunningham closed out his career ranked among the Big Ten's all-time leaders in receptions (seventh) and receiving yards (ninth). He also is listed among the school's career leaders in TD receptions (second with 25) and 100-yard receiving games (third with 10).
Cunningham led the 2011 Spartans in receptions (tied MSU single-season record with 79), receiving yards (1,306), TD receptions (12) and 20-yard receptions (21). Fifty-five of his career-high 79 receptions (70 percent) resulted in either a touchdown or a first down. His 12 TD receptions (tied for third) and 1,306 receiving yards (third) also ranked among the Top 10 single-season totals in MSU history. He set a school single-season record with eight 100-yard receiving games.
A second-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and media, Cunningham finished among the conference leaders in TD receptions (tied for first), receiving yards (third at 93.3 per game) and receptions (fourth at 5.6 per game). In addition, he ranked 17th in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in receiving yards.
"I'm training down in Bradenton, Fla., so I'm around a number of wide receivers and it's hard to match B.J. Cunningham's skill set," MSU fifth-year senior quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "B.J. is the most decorated receiver in Michigan State history and that speaks volumes, especially when you go back through the record book and look at the names of the receivers who played here, like Charles Rogers, Plaxico Burress, Andre Rison and Mark Ingram. When you look at B.J.'s numbers, they say a lot about who he is and the quality player he is. Whatever NFL team selects B.J. will be very lucky to have him because he practices just as hard as he plays. He truly deserves all of the success he receives.
"I'm hoping that I get a chance to drive over from where I'm training to watch him play in the East-West Shrine Game Saturday. That would be very exciting. I'm also hopeful that I get an opportunity to talk to him after the game. Of all of the guys that I had played with during my five years at Michigan State, B.J. ranks right up there as one of my favorite guys to lineup alongside."
With seven catches for 66 yards in MSU's 33-30 triple-overtime win over Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl, Cunningham tied the school single-season record for receptions with 79 (Devin Thomas, 2007).
He became MSU's all-time leader in receiving yards during the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin with his 44-yard TD reception in the third quarter, passing Andre Rison, who previously held the record with 2,992 receiving yards. Cunningham recorded his eighth 100-yard receiving game of the season with 115 yards on five catches, establishing a school record. Cunningham recorded a career-high three TDs against the Badgers: he scored his first TD on a 30-yard pass from Cousins on fourth-and-inches on the first play of the second quarter, cutting the Badger lead to 21-14; for his second TD, he caught a lateral from Nichol at the 7-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown; his third touchdown, a 44-yarder, arrived on a third-and-6 play with 1:41 left in the third quarter. In five career games against Wisconsin, Cunningham had 22 catches for 309 yards and six touchdowns.
Cunningham had six catches for 120 yards, including TD receptions of 33 and 29 yards from Kirk Cousins, in the Spartans' 31-17 victory at Northwestern. He had six receptions for 132 yards and two TDs in MSU's 55-3 victory over Indiana on Senior Day. Cunningham caught three passes for 104 yards in MSU's 31-24 win over Minnesota, including a season-long 69-yard reception from Cousins in the first quarter helped set up the Spartans' first touchdown. He had six receptions for 102 yards in MSU's 37-31 victory over No. 4 Wisconsin, including a 35-yard TD grab from Cousins in the second quarter.
Cunningham had nine receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown in MSU's 10-7 victory at Ohio State, as the Spartans ended a seven-game losing streak against the Buckeyes and recorded their first win in Columbus since 1998. He scored on a 33-yard strike from Cousins to give MSU a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. His 154 receiving yards are the most ever by a Spartan against Ohio State (previous record: 135 receiving yards by Frank Foreman, 1969).
Cunningham recorded career highs in receptions (12) and receiving yards (158) at Notre Dame. His 12 catches tied for fourth most in a game by a Spartan wide receiver (record: 14 by Matt Trannon vs. Eastern Michigan in 2006). His 158 receiving yards were the most since Blair White had 186 yards against Northwestern in 2009, and the second most for a Spartan wide receiver against Notre Dame (Charles Rogers, 175 yards in 2002). It marked his second-career 100-yard receiving game against the Irish (seven receptions for 101 yards vs. Notre Dame in 2010). In four career games against Notre Dame, Cunningham had 26 receptions for 361 yards and one TD.
The Westerville, Ohio, native caught nine passes for 130 yards in the 2011 season opener against Youngstown State, as he tied Trannon's (2003-06) record for career receptions with 148. His 18-yard TD catch from Cousins late in the third quarter gave MSU a 21-6 lead.
Nichol will represent the American Team, led by former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders head coach Tom Flores. The NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) will broadcast Saturday's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, with kickoff set for 6 p.m. EST.
In two-plus seasons, Nichol caught 50 passes for 625 yards (12.5 avg.) and four TDs. He caught at least one pass in 24 of 28 games as a wide receiver.
The 6-2, 220-pound Nichol finished fifth on the team in receptions and fourth in receiving yards in 2011. Seventeen of his 26 receptions (65 percent) resulted in either a TD or a first down. He caught at least one pass in 12 of 14 games.
Nichol matched his career best with four receptions for 53 yards in the Spartans' bowl victory over Georgia, including a 7-yard TD grab from Cousins midway through the fourth quarter that gave MSU its first lead at 20-19. He tied his career high with four catches for 39 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. Nichol caught three passes for 41 yards against Minnesota, including a 4-yard TD catch from Cousins in the first quarter. He scored the game-winning TD on a 44-yard Hail Mary from Cousins as time expired in MSU's 37-31 regular-season victory over No. 4 Wisconsin. Nichol had three receptions for a career-best 54 yards against Central Michigan.
"Keith Nichol is a strong, powerful, versatile athlete, who is capable of making plays in a variety of ways," Cousins said. "The coaches working the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl will see his unparalleled work ethic and high football IQ. When Keith steps onto a football field, people take notice - that's the way it's always been."