2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR
college football program crashed and burned
more spectacularly in the 2002 season. The
Spartans headed into the season tabbed as
possible contenders, even darkhorse favorites
in the Big Ten race by many. They stumbled
home with a devastating 4-8 record (2-6
in the Big Ten). In many ways, it was the
worst Spartan season in 50 years, and the
firing of Williams became inevitable when
off-field problems of discipline and substance
abuse mushroomed midway through the season.
2003 schedule is not exactly friendly -
the Spartans drop Northwestern off the schedule
to pick up national champion Ohio State,
and finish the season with five straight
bowl-caliber opponents (Minnesota, Michigan,
OSU, Wisconsin and Penn State).
the off-field problems under control will
also be a prime objective for Smith. Never
known as an ironclad disciplinarian at his
previous coaching stops, Smith, if nothing
else, will keep the team's leading lights
on the field and out of the gossip columns
to produce success.
some semblance of order to a program that,
fairly or unfairly, was perceived as having
spun out of control under Williams will
be an absolute must. Marked success for
this team should be measured in the intangibles
above listed. Remember, this is a college-level
game that has students who also happen to
play football. The ship has to be righted
in respect to this dimension of these young
men's lives. Priorities need to be disseminated
by a strong coach who can see what is needed,
and when. This club needs to improve their
overall approach to why they play the game.
Going this deep will surely make this team
its strongest since Nick Saban had MSU's
house in order.
the first year is a hard one to produce
a sizeable win increase with a new team.
The Spartan schedule features a couple of
early nonconference creampuffs and MSU should
start decently, but the regime change and
personnel losses - the defection of Richard,
mainly - will make any improvement over
last season's 4-8 mark difficult but not
2003 record: 5-7
QB Drew Stanton
BAN Monquiz Wedlow
WR Jerramy Scott
Jeff Smoker, 203-114-10, 1593 yds., 13 TD's
Rushing: Jaren Hayes, 61 att., 340
yds., 4 TD's
Receiving: Eric Knott, 35 rec., 349
yds., 4 TD's
Scoring: Dave Rayner, 10-16 FG, 34-35
PAT, 64 pts.
Punting: Jason Daily, 66 punts, 40.4
Kicking: Dave Rayner, 10-16 FG, 34-35
PAT, 64 pts.
Tackles: Ronald Stanley, 99 tot.,
Sacks: Clifford Dukes, 4 sacks
Interceptions: Jason Harmon, 3 for
Kickoff returns: Jaren Hayes, 31
ret., 18.9 avg.
Punt returns: Ziehl Kavanaght, 33
ret., 8.7 avg.
Dawan Moss-TB, B.J. Lovett-WR, Paul Harker-OG,
Ulish Booker-OT, Charles Rogers-WR (NFL),
David Richard-RB (transferred), Brian Ottney-C
Henry-CB, Broderick Nelson-CB, DeMario Suggs-CB,
Royal Oak, Mich.
into the 2003 season, Michigan State has few positions
on offense that could be put solidly in the "strength"
the returning players with solid credentials fall
more in the "question mark" category.
Most unsure is the fate of senior quarterback
Jeff Smoker. Last year, he was one of the favorites
for All-Big Ten honors (especially teamed with
NFL-bound All-American WR Charles Rogers). But
Smoker left the team at midseason (substance abuse
rehab), and his return to the Spartan lineup is
still anything but sure, however it appears Jeff
has been working hard in the spring and looks
to be on pace for playing time once again in 2003.
checking in, Smoker had solid but not spectacular
numbers. Smoker would give new coach John L. Smith
- who's had success grooming QBs Chris Redman
and Dave Ragone at previous stops - an experienced
arm at the trigger. This is the primary path the
team wants to take. But even if he's back with
a totally clean bill of health, Smoker will have
a selling job to do with his teammates before
he can regain his role as a team leader. Damon
Dowdell will also be back after finishing out
the season as the starter. Sophomore Aaron Alexander,
with the best size of any MSU QB at 6-5 and 210,
also saw game time late in 2002. Meanwhile, coming
out of the wings is highly heralded redshirted
freshman Drew Stanton, who has drawn comparisons
to another ballyhooed Drew - former Michigan quarterback
and current New York Yankee farmhand Drew Henson.
Stanton stands 6-3, 215, and was one of the most
highly sought-after signal-callers in the nation
as a prep senior. If Smoker can return and Stanton
can emerge, a shift of either Dowdell or Alexander
to a wideout position (to bolster the MSU depth
here) shouldn't surprise. Any of these names could
wind up the starter for Michigan State's August
by Rogers last year, the Spartans return two solid
sophomore tight ends. Both not only saw plenty
of quality 2002 time, but both can also put a
helmet on someone. Jason Randall got the starting
call, while Eric Knott came off the bench and
was Michigan State's second-leading receiver (35
catches, 349 yards, 4TDs). The two will legitimize
deploying two-TE sets a majority of the time,
with each TE occupying at least one down-lineman
per play. If MSU can send both into the secondary,
coverages should be overmatched. TE should be
a red flag for opposing defensive coordinators
- if not, these two will exploit them accordingly.
running back position appeared to be in good hands.
But in the aftermath of the firing of former coach
Bobby Williams, RB David Richard developed a case
of homesickness and announced in late January
his intention to transfer. Due to NCAA transfer
requirements, he is expected to finish out the
academic year at MSU, but his departure is now
a done deal.
leaves the running game in the hands of sophomores
Jaren Hayes and Jason Teague, both 5-9 and 180,
and tend to answer to the "shifty, speed-back"
description, rather than the big-back types usually
spotlighted in Smith's single-back offense. Smith
hit the recruiting trail hard looking for bigger
backs, but this fall, he's going to have to go
with the Spartans he's been dealt. Junior Tyrell
Dortch is another option coaches are utilizing.
This could easily wind up a RB by committee situation
in Coach Smith's one back set.
important question mark has to be the WR corps.
The loss of Rogers will be a killer, even though
nobody expected him to return for his senior campaign.
The Spartans also lost B.J. Lovett, Rogers' outside
counterpart, so all the starting receiver positions
will be up for grabs. Shifty soph Agim Shabaj
saw considerable action early on in the season
before a nagging ankle injury sidelined him for
several weeks, while redshirt soph Ben Steckler
got a very few snaps as Rogers' backup at split
end. Senior Ziehl Kavanaght has started part-time
at flanker. Sophomore Matt Trannon, who missed
the 2002 season due to academics, is expected
to be eligible in time this year. The 6-7, 230-pounder,
also a prize prospect in basketball, should see
immediate time and give the Spartan quarterbacks
a towering target to hurl the ball.
to Smith's version of the spread means MSU will
no longer have a regular fullback on the roster.
That means holdovers Mark Goebel, a 6-2, 240-pound
senior, and David Herron, a 6-1, 245-pound soph,
will have to find other places to play - perhaps
at tight end, linebacker or on the special teams.
Look for their talent and competitive needs to
considerably strengthen each respective position
question mark will be the offensive line, a major
problem for MSU the last few seasons. While only
one starter graduated, those returning will feel
some heavy heat to improve their marginal playing-level.
MSU quarterbacks were terrorized by opposing pass
rushers for 33 sacks, and the running game repeatedly
misfired, leaving Michigan State in passing situations
far too often.
center Brian Ottney, a 2002 co-captain, was to
be the leading returner for MSU on the O-line.
But Ottney has ended his career citing cronic
knee problems. The rest of the depth chart weighs
in excess of 300 pounds. Their mobility has to
be questioned. Senior DeMarco Monroe, and juniors
William Whitticker and Sean Poole, return from
backup roles. These three will be the key to any
improvement - their starting status could be the
personal change needed. This blocking unit will
be transparent by the first game - if they can
establish themselves early, it could be a solid
unit. But if they still look poor, expect little
improvement in their mobility throughout the rest
of the season.
STATE 2003 DEPTH CHART
Returning Starters in bold
Smoker-Sr / Drew Stanton-Fr
Royal Oak, Mich.
was where it went really wrong for Michigan State
last year. If you had to pick an area of relative
strength for the 2003 Spartan defense, it would
probably be the linebackers. Junior Ronald Stanley
is back at WILL, while senior Monquiz Wedlow is
back at SAM. Both are smallish, but can cover
as well as they tackle. But giving up big plays
was a problem. Erratic Mike Labinjo (6-1, 250)
is in the middle. As a unit, they should provide
enough around which to build, if it can even come
gave up a school-record (worst) 33.2 points per
contest. Some of these woes were the result of
TO problems by the offense (gave up 26 TOs), but
the defense deteriorated marginally week by week,
culminating in a complete collapse against Penn
State. Larry Johnson ran for 278 yards in little
more than a half - and probably could have tacked
on 300 more to challenge the single game record
(LaDainian Tomlinson for TCU, 406 vs. UTEP, 1999)
but Joe Paterno felt like enough was enough.
improvement is needed on the defensive line in
a hurry. All of 2002's starters and back-ups return,
and while their 2002 effort was at times decent,
the performance is going to have to improve by
light-years for the Spartan defense to again become
competitive in the Big 10.
DBs are one group who did play up-to-par, ranking
57th in pass efficiency defense as they held opponents
to less than 50% completion. Sophomore Eric Smith
finished the season as the starting free safety,
while sophomore Ashton Watson held down one of
the corner slots. Both are back. Junior Roderick
Maples is the only other returning cornerback
with significant game experience, while juniors
Robert Flagg and Jason Harmon served in backup
roles at safety in 2002. They need to build upon
last year's ability to keep plays in front of
them, hopefully by taking the next step to break
on the ball accordingly. Predictably, the secondary
will be aiding the run-stopping - a red flag for
OCs to use first-half running to set up second-half
STATE 2003 DEPTH CHART
Returning Starters in bold
Spartans got good performances out of PK Dave Rayner
(10-14 FGs, 53 yd long) and punter Jason Daily (40.4
yd/punt, superior hang time) last year. Both are back,
and Smith will at least have decent legs to work with
on special teams. This would be his first year of this,
so this is a wait-and-see scenario. Kyle Brown had a
decent year returning kickoffs, with a 21.7 average
on nine returns. We will report developments in the
kick returner's chart depth.
punt returning job, too, will be up for grabs, although
Shabaj saw a few turns there early in the 2002 campaign
and Kavanaght has also run back punts at times in past
seasons. Kavanaght is going to have to break a tendency
toward fumbleitis, though. Stay tuned here as well.
Redshirt frosh Drew Stanton will enter the
fall as the starting QB. Although this may
change come August 30th, Stanton has appeared
to have the best grasp of the offense, complimenting
it with crisp performance in live action.
He reminds some viewers of what Chris Redman
had to offer with Coach John L. Smith back
when he first arrived at Louisville. With
some grooming, Stanton could become the
BEST QB EVER in East Lansing
position received a HUGE boost, learning
that they will be aided by the services
of Matt Trannon this season. Blessed with
size (6'6", 210 lbs) and unparalleled
athletic ability, Trannon will give the
Spartans that big-play receiver they lacked
heading into the spring. He sat out last
season due to academics. Trust us - this
kid is going to be a star! Former QB Aaron
Alexander has moved over to WR in an effort
to utilize his athleticism and play-making
ability. Kyle Brown and Jerramy Scott, along
with veteran Agim Shabaj, have been the
stars on the flanks up to this point. Jaren
Hayes and Tyrell Dortch have been the top
RBs during spring camp and have dispelled
the loss of last year's starter, David Richard.
Hayes is the bruiser, while Dortch is the
slasher with big-play ability. Expect these
two to exchange carries.
After such poor showings in 2002, defense
has been the main focus leading into 2003.
There isn't much to brag about right now.
CBs Roderick Maples and Ashton Watson looked
good in the spring, displaying the ability
to run with receivers and seal the corners
Greg Taplin and BAN Monquiz Wedlow have
also been sharp, each leading the team in
tackles during spring scrimmages. The Spartans
have also seen Clifton Ryan come to the
forefront, tallying three sacks in the spring
game. DT Kyle Rasmussen has returned from
a brief team absence to help pace the second
unit and will certainly provide needed depth
on the front line. New recruits, CBs DeAndra
Cobb and Greg Cooper will help bring somewhat
of a plug to a rather leaky secondary.
K Dave Rayner has given the Spartans breaths
of fresh air that will hopefully culminate
in a sigh of relief. Rayner was marked with
inconsistency last season, but a strong
spring showing has helped give John L. Smith
confidence in his kicking game. Shabaj,
Jerramy Scott and Kyle Brown will be given
spots on the kick return team, with Shabaj
handling punts as well.