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Lusterless losses end season

November 26, 2002
Junior center DeMarco Monroens leaves Beaver Stadium on Saturday night after the team lost 61-7 to Penn State in State College, Pa. The Spartans ended the season with a 4-8 record.

The MSU football team's season was low-lighted by lackluster efforts, humiliating losses, several suspensions and the dismissal of the head coach before the end of the year.

There were five losses by 21 points or more, five players who voluntarily left the team and six players suspended for one game or more.

"It was a disaster," ESPN college football analyst Beano Cook said. "It was a complete collapse."

It was somewhat fitting that junior flanker/punt returner Ziehl Kavanaght received a one-game suspension for violating unspecified team rules early last week and the Spartans were pummeled 61-7 on Saturday in the season finale against Penn State.

The loss ended, arguably, the most disappointing season in MSU football history. But this wasn't the ending that anybody expected.

Before the season, MSU ranked No. 18 in The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches preseason polls, boasted one of the nation's most feared pass-catch combinations in junior wideout Charles Rogers and junior quarterback Jeff Smoker and because of its favorable schedule - eight home games - was considered as a dark horse national championship contender.

The off-the-field problems started before the season began.

Following the Aug. 17 preseason scrimmage, former head coach Bobby Williams announced the one-game suspensions of sophomore linebacker James Cooper and sophomore safety Robert Flagg. Both sat out the season opener against Eastern Michigan on Aug. 31. Cooper later left the team.

During the same announcement, Williams said senior tight end Eric Easter, junior defensive end Dominick Brown and sophomore defensive tackle Lonnie Simmons had left the program.

Those had no effect on the Spartans in the first two games as the Spartans rolled in a 56-7 win over Eastern Michigan and overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit to beat Rice 27-10.

In the third game, things unraveled as the Spartans were embarrassed at home 46-22 by California - the Golden Bears had won just one game in the previous season.

Then, the Spartans suffered a heartbreaking setback to Notre Dame, 21-17, dropping them to 2-2 on the season.

MSU salvaged its five-game homestand with a 39-24 victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten opener. But that would be the last win at Spartan Stadium this season and the last win of the Williams' era.

The next four losses essentially concluded Williams tenure and proved the Spartans were overrated entering the season.

"Teams get over-rated all the time," ESPN's Cook said. "It happens every year. Every year there are teams that are supposed to do well and they don't do well. That's what makes it interesting."

In a traditionally close matchup, Iowa spanked MSU 44-16 in Iowa City, Iowa. In that game, the dynamic duo - Smoker and Rogers - had their troubles. Smoker was benched for poor play and Rogers' streak of 14 consecutive games with a touchdown reception was snapped.

Five days after a 28-7 pounding at the hands of Minnesota on homecoming, Smoker was indefinitely suspended for violating of unspecified team rules. The Manheim, Pa, native later revealed he was battling a substance abuse program.

In the next two weeks, junior defensive end Greg Taplin was handed a one-game suspension and senior tailback was dismissed from the team. Moss was later placed on indefinite suspension.

The back-to-back losses already caused an uproar from fans and alumni. Fans booed at home games and some chanted, "Fire Bobby."

A Web site, firebobbywilliams.com, was even created to bash the former Spartan coach.

Days after archrival Michigan thrashed the Spartans 49-3 in Ann Arbor, fans and alumni got their wish. Athletics Director Ron Mason terminated Williams after practice on Nov. 5.

"When you don't win you have turmoil, as simple as that," Cook said. "You've got to win, that's all the alumni care about.

Williams firing sparked the Spartans to 56-21 victory over Indiana on the road, but it couldn't propel MSU to the postseason.

"Every team goes through bad seasons and they come back and I have a feeling Michigan State will be back," Cook said. "They're too good of a program. Every good stock dips every so often and this one went down and they will come back.

Look at Notre Dame they turned it around this year."

Romando J. Dixson can be reached at dixsonro@msu.edu.

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