How the Spartans fared in 2002: (4-8 overall, 2-6 Big Ten)
Michigan State 27, Rice 10
California 46, Michigan State 22
Notre Dame 21, Michigan State 17
Michigan State 39, Northwestern 24
Iowa 44, Michigan State 16
Minnesota 28, Michigan State 7
Wisconsin 42, Michigan State 24
Michigan 49, Michigan State 3
Michigan State 56, Indiana 21
Purdue 45, Michigan State 42
Penn State 61, Michigan State 7
Aug. 30 v. Western Michigan
Sept. 6 v. Rutgers
Sept. 13 v. Louisiana Tech
Sept. 20 at Notre Dame
Sept. 27 v. Iowa
Oct. 4 v. Indiana
Oct. 11 at Illinois
Oct. 18 at Minnesota
Nov. 1 v. Michigan
Nov. 8 at Ohio State
Nov. 15 at Wisconsin
Nov. 22 v. Penn State
Starters returning: 16—6 offense, 8 defense, punter Jason Daily, kicker Dave Rayner
Versus Wisconsin: The Spartans lead the all-time series 25-18. Wisconsin has won three of the last four contests, including a 42-24 victory at Camp Randall last season. The Badgers ran roughshod over MSU's defense, finishing with 313 yards on the ground. Tailbacks Anthony Davis and Dwayne Smith ran for 170 and 110 yards, respectively. Quarterback Brooks Bollinger ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 118 yards and three touchdowns.
Bucky Newsstand 2002 coverage:
Badger Nation 2002 coverage:
Spartans 2002 in brief:
The Spartans looked like a team with a chance of doing some damage in the Big Ten before facing Iowa in the season's sixth game. Michigan State was 3-2, but a tough loss to Notre Dame and a defeat at the hands of a rejuvenated Cal program were nothing to be ashamed of. The Hawkeyes, though, demolished MSU, setting the tone for a disastrous conference season. The Spartans lost six of their last seven games, and lost them badly. Michigan State's six conference losses were by a combined 269-99.
The Spartans struggled with a porous defense and team turmoil. Starting quarterback Jeff Smoker was suspended midway through the season due to a substance-abuse problem. He threw for 1,593 yards and 13 touchdowns in seven games. His replacement, sophomore Damon Dowdell, had 1,097 passing yards, 10 TD and only four interceptions, appearing in nine games, with five starts.
The defense struggled throughout the season, particularly against the run, where few teams in the nation yielded more yards. The Spartans gave up fewer than 21 points only twice, against Rice and Eastern Michigan. They allowed more than 40 an alarming six times.
The season was not without solace, though. Receiver Charles Rogers remained true to form, winning the Biletnikoff Award after setting school records with 68 receptions, 1,351 yards and 13 touchdowns. He finished third in the nation in touchdown catches and eighth in receiving yards, leading the Big Ten in each of those categories.
Looking ahead to 2003:
As has been thematic with many of Badger Nation's opponents previews, Michigan State should be exciting on offense, but will likely struggle far too much defensively to show much improvement. Five or six wins should be considered a solid showing in the rebuilding process.
The offense does have weapons, though, starting at quarterback and the biggest question—Smoker. An incredibly talented player, new coach John L. Smith has stated that he will allow Smoker to compete for the starting job, if or when the team and Smoker himself are satisfied with his progress in battling his substance abuse problems.
With or without Smoker, the team should be fine at quarterback. Dowdell, a junior, was productive last season, even if the team won only one game with him at the helm. The Spartans must replace Rogers, receiver B.J. Lovett and running backs Dawan Moss and David Richard. Michigan State, though, has plenty of young, if inexperienced, talent to utilize on offense. More importantly, they have Smith, whose spread offense worked wonders at Louisville, consistently placing the Cardinals among the nation's best offenses.
The defense, though, will again be a liability. Most of the squad returns and the Spartans have a solid linebacker corps, but there are too many holes. Michigan State will be fortunate to find itself in shootouts this season.
The schedule is not particularly helpful, with treacherous road games against Notre Dame, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Home games with Iowa and Penn State bookend the Big Ten schedule and a not-so-easy non-conference game against Louisiana Tech is a potential pratfall.