Smith opening eyes at Michigan State

Updated: October 28, 2003, 7:21 PM ET
ESPN

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Just two months ago, many people didn't know what to think of John L. Smith.

Michigan State's new coach wore cowboys boots and dark suits, not sneakers and khakis. He was different from any coach this state had seen.

But those who knew Smith during his tenures at Louisville, Utah State and Idaho said his ways would be embraced when he started winning.

Those predictions have come true.

The Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) are ranked No. 9, their highest position in the poll since finishing seventh in 1999. They enter Saturday's game at home against Michigan (7-2, 4-1) as the only team without a Big Ten loss.

The schedule does get tougher, with games left against Penn State at home and trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin. But Smith has already led the Spartans to more wins this season than even their most optimistic fans thought he would.

Smith knows attracting talented recruits will be necessary to make this year the start of something special.

"You have to have talented kids who buy into what you're trying to do," Smith said. "I think all of the positive things that have happened have helped our recruiting. More kids are saying, 'Tell me more about Michigan State and your plans there."

He is doing so well, some are worried that another school may come after him.

Smith, who will turn 55 when Michigan State plays at Wisconsin on Nov. 15, said this would be his last coaching stop when he was hired and nothing has changed his mind.

"I love it here," he said.

Smith got a late start last season during the recruiting season because he was hired in December, when many high schools standouts already had made decisions. He does not downplay what a win over the Wolverines would do to help his recruiting efforts.

"It would be huge," Smith said. "We have to show kids we can win here. We have to make this a good option for kids that want to be the best and play for the best."

When Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was asked how much of a factor the result of the Wolverines-Spartans game is for recruits, he said, "I have no idea."

Michigan's Dave Pearson, a Brighton native, was more forthcoming on the subject.

"I'm sure it has a little bit of an impact," Pearson said. "But there is so much more that goes into making a decision about where you are going to spend the next four or five years of your life. An individual game might not have a huge impact, but it could play a role if you are right down to the wire to decide between those two schools."

Regardless of the outcome Saturday, Smith knows Michigan State has to be successful for a long time to catch up with Michigan.

The Spartans have put together back-to-back seasons with at least eight wins only once since 1966. The Wolverines have won at least seven regular-season games in 19 straight seasons.

"We have to make this a rivalry because right now, it's a one-sided deal," Smith said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index