Spartans atop Big Ten after 31-3 win over Indiana

Whoever said the cupboard was bare in East Lansing? Michigan State took another step towards contending for the Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth with a resounding 31-3 pounding of the hapless Indiana Hoosiers. MSU takes it high flying spread on the road to Illinois.

(EAST LANSING) - Whoever said that former coach Bobby Williams left the cupboard bare in East Lansing wasn't looking closely enough.

While the Detroit Lions receivers coach was unable to get the most out of what he recruited, it's clear now that there is an abundance of talented players wearing green jerseys.

Jeff Smoker continues to make the most of his second chance to pilot the talent laden Spartans after coming back from a substance abuse suspension.

On Saturday, Smoker completed a record 32 passes on just 40 attempts, a staggering feat, including two touchdown passes and a TD run to propel the Spartans to a 31-3 win over Indiana.

While no-nothing talking heads continue to tout guys like Tulane's J.P. Losman, Miami (OH)'s Ben Roethlisberger and Ole Miss' Eli Manning, while ignoring the MSU senior, Smoker continues to raise the eyebrows of NFL scouts as he re-writes the MSU record book.

The senior has already thrown for 1,501 yards and 10 TD with a solid passer rating of 140.9.

Smoker (rank #30 in Division I-A)was a huge factor in MSU's 31-3 win over Indiana that put the Spartans in first place tie with Minnesota and Wisconsin at 2-0 in the Big Ten.

Smoker is just one of a talented Spartans squad that has jumped out to a 5-1 (2-0 Big Ten)record halfway through the 2003 football season.

Now the Spartans have to be looked at as serious contenders for the Big Ten title, especially in light of Iowa's 23-20 win over Michigan in Iowa City.

Michigan faces a showdown game on Friday night in the Metrodome against a powerful Minnesota Golden Gophers squad led by the nation's top quarterback Asad Abdul-Kahliq (passer rating 189.6), who engineered a 42-17 blowout win over Northwestern.

If Michigan loses, it all but eliminates them from BCS and Big Ten contention with two conference losses and cements Minnesota as the team to beat in the conference. If Michigan wins, the Wolverines are back in a muddied Big Ten picture.

Still, MSU must continue to show it can play well on the road they way they did in South Bend against Notre Dame. The Spartans next face a Fighting Illini team that can't seem to score points and has a pourous defense.

The Illini's only win this season came against Gateway conference crosstown rival Illinois State. Michigan State "Gang Green" defense (rank #2 in the NCAA)continues to stuff opponents running attack averaging just 54 yards rushing allowed per game.

Looming ahead for the Spartans are trips to Minneapolis vs. Minnesota (October 18), Columbus vs. Ohio State (November 8) and to Madison vs. Wisconsin (November 15) and of course, the Spartans host the annual "Backyard Brawl" vs. Michigan on November 1.

The Spartans will logically need to win at least two of those road games to stay in the Big Ten race and at least one to figure into a Christmas/New Year's Day bowl trip, but isn't finally fun for Spartans fans to be able to dream about a trip south for the holidays?

With their outstanding play to date under new coach John L. Smith, MSU just needs a win Saturday vs. Illinois to ensure themselves of a bowl bid somewhere.

The fact that they would even be considered for a bowl game after last year's horrendous 4-8 finish under Williams last year is evidence of Smith's coaching ability and Williams ability to recruit.

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