TE Eric Knott

2002 Statistics

Coach: John L. Smith
1st year
2002 Record: 4-8
RICE WON 27-10
at Iowa LOST 16-44
at Michigan LOST 3-49
at Indiana WON 56-21
at Penn State LOST 7-61

2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

No 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.

The 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).

Getting 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.

Restoring 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.

But 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 yet impossible.

Projected 2003 record: 5-7
QB Drew Stanton
BAN Monquiz Wedlow
WR Jerramy Scott
QB - 3.5 DL - 2.5
RB - 2 LB - 3.5
WR - 2.5 DB - 3.5
OL - 4 ..

Passing: 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 avg.

Kicking: Dave Rayner, 10-16 FG, 34-35 PAT, 64 pts.

Tackles: Ronald Stanley, 99 tot., 61 solo

Sacks: Clifford Dukes, 4 sacks

Interceptions: Jason Harmon, 3 for (-1) yds.

Kickoff returns: Jaren Hayes, 31 ret., 18.9 avg.

Punt returns: Ziehl Kavanaght, 33 ret., 8.7 avg.


DT Kyle Rasmussen
OFFENSE: Dawan Moss-TB, B.J. Lovett-WR, Paul Harker-OG, Ulish Booker-OT, Charles Rogers-WR (NFL), David Richard-RB (transferred), Brian Ottney-C (injury)
DEFENSE: Cedric Henry-CB, Broderick Nelson-CB, DeMario Suggs-CB, Thomas Wright-SS

By Joe Howley
Royal Oak, Mich.

Heading into the 2003 season, Michigan State has few positions on offense that could be put solidly in the "strength" column.

Even 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.

Before 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 30th opener.

Overshadowed 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.

The 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.

That 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.

Another 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.

Shifting 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 they choose.

Another 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.

Senior 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.


QB Jeff Smoker


Returning Starters in bold
QB Damon Dowdell-Jr Jeff Smoker-Sr / Drew Stanton-Fr
RB Jaren Hayes-So Tyrell Dortch-Jr
WR Kyle Brown-So Ben Steckler-So
WR Ziehl Kavanaght-Sr Matt Trannon-So
WR Agim Shabaj-So Jerramy Scott-Fr
TE Jason Randall-Jr Eric Knott-Jr
OT Stefon Wheeler-So Gordon Niebylski-So
OG Joe Tate-Sr Kyle Cook-Fr
C DeMarco Monroe-Sr Joe Brooks-Sr
OG William Whitticker-Jr Paul Harker-Sr
OT Steve Stewart-Sr Sean Poole-Jr
K Dave Rayner-Jr Bobby Belmonte-So



By Joe Howley
Royal Oak, Mich.

Defense 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 to that.

MSU 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.

Drastic 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.

The 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 play-action.


LB Ronald Stanley


Returning Starters in bold
DE Greg Taplin-Sr Clifton Ryan-Fr
DT Brandon McKinney-Jr Kyle Rasmussen-Sr
DT Kevin Vickerson-Jr Matthias Askew-Jr
DE Clifford Dukes-Jr Luc Mullinder-Sr
MIKE Ronald Stanley-Jr Mark Goebel-Sr
WHIP Seth Mitchell-So Mike Labinjo-Sr
BAN Monquiz Wedlow-Sr Steve Kielp-Fr
CB Ashton Watson-So Darren Barnett-So
CB Roderick Maples-Jr Jeremiah McLaurin-Sr
SS Derron Ware-So Anthony Belasco-Fr
FS Eric Smith-So Jason Harmon-Jr
P Jason Daily-Sr ..




The 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.

The 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…The WR 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…DE 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.