(EAST LANSING) - Despite all the talk about his suspended status from the MSU football team, everyone with a brain knew that eventually senior Jeff Smoker would be the Spartans starting quarterback when the games started.
Smoker had too much experience and talent to waste his final year of eligibility sitting on the sidelines or suspended from a program that desparately needed a decisive signal caller to run John L. Smith's spread offense.
After a highly successful run for the Spartans (8-5) in 2003, in their Alamo Bowl game loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, QB Drew Stanton, the heir apparent to Smoker as the Spartans quarterback tore up his knee as part of the kick coverage team.
Stanton is only participating in non contact drills until late summer but is still the front runner to replace Smoker. However, three challengers to his position are battling for a spot in coach John L. Smith's final this fall, Tampa native Stephen Reaves, Detroit senior Damon Dowdell who is back after nearly transferring and Ohio redshirt freshman Sean Clayton.
All are competing for the right to challenge Stanton this fall for the Spartans starting quarterback job.
Stanton has watched as Reaves has taken a Lions share of the reps in spring ball and he knows that Reaves will be a formidable challenger in the fall.
"It's by no means over after the spring," Stanton told the Booth newspapers. "These coaches aren't concerned about what you've done in the past. It's what you're doing now. So I'm not too concerned if I'm not named the starter in the spring.
Reeves says he won't be disappointed if he isn't named the starter, but clearly feels he is in a position to win the job.
"I don't think any redshirt freshman coming in is going to be surprised if they're not the starter," Reaves said. "But going into spring, I think I have a fairly good shot and, hopefully, if I win it, that would be good. The biggest obstacle right now is learning the system."
If Reaves is Ruben Studdard, then Damon Dowdell is Clay Aiken.
Like Aiken, Dowdell thinks he should be "the man." The Detroit native though, is probably a longshot. He nearly transferred this off season and probably should have. Smith has little loyalty to a player who he's only known for a little over a year and who did not produce when called upon in MSU's only bad loss of the season to Louisiana Tech.
Dowdell and the Spartans coaching staff didn't see eye-to-eye last season. He felt he was given too much blame for the Lousiana Tech loss. Despite that, the senior returned for one last shot at running the MSU team.
"I've paid my dues and it's been a long road," Dowdell said. "If not now, when?" And if he's not the starter in the fall? "I'd be real, real disappointed."
Dowdell has moved ahead of redshirt freshman Sean Clayton, who was moved back from tight end to quarterback to provide competition for Reaves and Dowdell.
However, Coach Smith has made it clear that two of the three will be eliminated from the race for the starting quarterback position, and like Simon, he's going to be decisive and brutally honest about who is "the guy" in East Lansing.
"We'll let everybody else go ahead and compete during spring, and then when fall ball comes around, whoever wins that battle will go battle with Drew come fall," Smith said.
Spartans Insiders pick: Expect Smith to rotate early in the year. Reaves likley will start the opener, with Dowdell getting some playing time also. However, once the Big Ten season starts, Stanton will be a solid #1 signal caller.