This continues our series recapping the last ten seasons in the Big Ten.
It's January 1, 2000. Your computer didn't explode, the house is still standing, and MSU football fans are pretty damn happy. A bowl defeat of Florida has made the 10-2 Spartans the #8 ranked team in America. Who knew that, as The Only Colors volunteered, this would be "our last major triumph before heading into the college football wilderness for the better part of the decade."
A conference record of 32-48 would follow, highlighted by incompetent coaches, famously bad choke jobs, and a six game losing streak to arch-rival Michigan. A calming influence was needed and it seemed the Spartans found that in the droll Mark Dantonio, who rung up a couple victories over Michigan and a Capitol One Bowl berth.
At an after work gathering in Los Angeles with Law Buckeye's colleagues, I pleasantly chided a Cal Alum by referring to Cal as the "Michigan State of the West: Heavy on talent and expectations, low on results." After reviewing the tremendous mediocrity the Spartans had been through these last ten years, that statement feels like an insult to Cal. Here's to a better '10's for East Lansing, with more bowls and less embarrassments.
II. Year By Year
The Michigan State Spartans
|2001||7-5||3-5||Silicon||Fresno, W. 44-35|
|2002||4-8||2-6||-||Biletnikoff Award (Charles Rogers)|
|2003||8-5||5-3||Alamo||Nebraska, L. 17-3|
|2006||4-8||1-7||-||Biggest comeback in NCAA history|
|2007||7-6||3-5||Champs||BC, L. 24-21|
|2008||9-4||6-2||CapOne||Georgia, L. 24-12|
|2009||6-7||4-4||Alamo||TexasTech, L. 41-31||Greg Jones, All-American LB|
III. The Worsts
Plenty to talk about here, but that's what happens when John L. Smith is smashing entire seasons, and Drew Stanton's leg, with his mountain man persona.
A. Most Painful Loss
Not a question here, although CMU 2009 and OSU 2005 could make a case. The Notre Dame game in 2006 pitted a 3-0 Spartan team versus a 2-1 Charlie Weis team that would eventually end up in the BCS. Drew Stanton quarterbacked MSU to a 17 point halftime lead and it looked as if MSU would be jumping out to a strong 4-0 start. Up 16 entering the final quarter at home, Stanton sealed John L. Smith's pink slip by turning the ball over 3 times as the Irish stormed back for a 40-37 win. It wasn't just losing at home, on national TV, to the hated Irish. It was the way they lost; Smith calling pass plays (in the rain) up two touchdowns instead of milking the clock, the inability to "play like they belonged" in a favorite role. The year spiraled downward after that horrific loss. SHOCKING POSITIVE - This killed JLS's future in East Lansing.
One would be remiss to forget Big Braylon Edwards destroying the Spartans in triple overtime. That game was over, done, but Henne to Braylon kept working and the Spartans couldn't really stop it. I watched the entire 4th quarter and overtime periods with a slightly confused half-grin, never believing what I was seeing. Big Baby Braylon may have a rep for the dropsies now, but 189 yards and 3 touchdows on 11 catches is nothing to laugh at.
B. Worst Team
We're going to go ahead and declare a tie between the 2002 clusterf*** that ended Bobby Williams and the aforementioned 2006 clusterf*** that shredded JLS. Four straight blowouts lowlighted the end of the BWill era and no one will forget Williams being asked if he had control of the team after a Michigan loss - His answer? "I don't know." Seeya! John L. Smith and the aforementioned 2006 season didn't help matters either; 4-8 with a ton of close losses...
Worst of all, according to my in-house expert, the 2002 team was picked to finish third in the Big Ten!
C. Program's Low Point
We could discuss the Penn State blowout coupled with FratFightGate or any of the JLS embarrassments, but I'll take the Bobby Williams "I don't know" period when he was replaced by Morris Watts (I remember so little about Morris Watts, I'm guessing he was an OC who quickly got tossed aside when JLS took over...googling...apparently he left on his own volition, my fault Morris, and now he's at my alma mater!). A 46 point loss to Michigan and starting QB Jeff Smoker's drug rehab made MSU look like the unsuccessful, convict ridden place that Wolverine fans had been claiming it was for years.
IV. The Bests
OH this is a nice change! Jesus were we getting negative...
A. Biggest Win
Beating Michigan in 2008 was a monster; the monkey off the back game, the streak snapper...All of a sudden East Lansing had the more consistent, more talented program. 7-2 was a place that MSU hadn't been all decade and Dantonio's stoicism and steadiness seemed to be paying off.
Another game, the 2009 OT win over Michigan, felt like a religious experience at the time, improbable comebacks into driving rainstorms by UM followed by a barely staying on his feet Larry Caper game winning TD run.
B. Best Team
One cannot complain about the hard working 2008 team, a squad that refused to be hammered by all the typical Spartan ghosts. Instead of choking, they were blessed by good fortune (Bielema's classic timeout to set up an MSU field goal, Adam Decker guessing right and stuffing Shonn Greene on 4th and 1) and solid defensive play by Greg Jones and Otis Wiley. Which leads me to...
C. Program High Point
October 18, 2008. The Spartans cruised by Northwestern the week before to top off a 6 game win streak, their longest since 1999. Conference record? 3-0, tied for first in the Big Ten. Opponent? Ohio State, who came in with a relatively new quarterback and the usual bullseye on their back. There were a lot of people who were having dreams about B10 titles, etc. And why wouldn't they? Solid linemen on both sides of the ball, an All-American candidate in the backfield, Greg Jones running sideline to sideline, a veteran QB. OSU quickly put a lot of those hopes to rest, but the possibilities seemed endless.
V. Play and the Player
A. Play of the Decade
When something is referred to as "The Catch," it should probably be the Play of the Decade. When something is referred to as Clockgate by an entire fanbase, yeah, you get the point. TJ Duckett's one yard touchdown catch to beat the Wolverines in 2001 is definitely The Play, especially when you consider that the clock had maybe run out and the Spartans were desperately in need of a win.
Smoker to Haygood versus Notre Dame isn't a bad place to start either.
B. Player of the Decade
I called a State man to talk a couple of these categories out (Oh yes, we take this seriously). A couple of names came up: Greg Jones (1st Team All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year), big Duckett, Jeff Smoker (set a lot of passing records), Javon Ringer...But I'm going to go with ol Chuck Rogers, the fastest, most athletic wide receiver to ever grace the turf of Spartan Stadium. I first saw big Charles at the Breslin Center, starting at forward for one of the best Saginaw teams I could remember. Matched up against Marcus Taylor's powerful Waverly team, Rogers surprised everyone with 30 points and a number of dunks in traffic. Blessed with the strong arm of Jeff Smoker and otherworldly athleticism, Rogers lit up um everyone for 27 touchdowns (MSU record) and surpassed 1300+ yards during both his sophomore and junior years. Then he got picked second in the NFL Draft by THE LIONS OH DAMMIT I KNEW THERE WAS A CATCH. Comparisons to Randy Moss quickly went up in smoke when Rogers got hurt in the league and began (or continued) hitting the hash pipe 2-10 times a day.
VI. The Rivalry Notes
I want to name names because it may have not been an altogether successful Aughts, but dammit those 3-0 starts got everyone a bit excited each year. Onto the playa's...
TJ Duckett. You can find him at the bars in East Lansing still - I know this because, well, I see him at the bars in East Lansing still. His favorites? Dublin Square (good atmosphere?) and PT's. Dude is huge, still, and no one will forget the rumbling style that made him such a goal line monster and a 2nd team All-Big Ten back. His 3000+ yards rushing put him 6th on the Spartan all time list.
Jeff Smoker. Cocaine trouble aside, Ol' "Smoke Green, Snort White" (H/T The Only Colors) made quite a go of it, setting a ton of MSU passing records. Sure he was a pothead, but he made Herb Haygood and others look pretty good. He's the all time leader at MSU for Pass Attempts, Pass Completions, Passing Yards, Passing TD's, and of course, Interceptions.
Javon Ringer. Speaking of record holders, I must admit, in occasional bouts of Michigan homerism...I would claim that Ringer was slow, not a pounder, and not very elusive. Yup, forgive me. Ringer's amazing 2007 run versus UM (remember, he got collared, trapped for a 10 yard loss, decided to spin and sprint out of it...for a 70 yard gain) pretty much encapsulates what he was all about - determination, endurance, and doing what was asked of him. Less carries because of Jehuu Caulcrick? Who cares. Only 190 lbs? Make me the centerpiece of the 2008 power run game. This NFL stud, currently with the Titans, holds the Spartan record for career TD's and sits right behind Lorenzo White in career yards and attempts.
Other Notables...Brett Swenson (K), Josh Thornhill (LB), Otis Wiley (S), Drew Stanton (QB), Deandre Cobb (RB and Special Teams), Devin Thomas (WR), Domata Peko (DT), Matt Trannon (WR...All-Time Receptions leader...who knew?), Blair White (WR), Dave Raymer (K), Ronald Stanley (LB...Someone..help me remember this guy), Mike Labinjo (LB), Ervin Baldwin (DE), Eric Smith (S), Brandon Fields (All-American Punter)...