Michigan State football

© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State football’s Mount Rushmore since 2000

Unlike the Mount Rushmore I did for Tom Izzo’s program since 2000, this Michigan State football version is going to be controversial.

A week ago, I sat down to choose my post-2000 Michigan State basketball Mount Rushmore and it was relatively easy to choose. Cassius Winston, Mateen Cleaves, Draymond Green, and Denzel Valentine. Honestly, it was tough to argue.

And then I decided I was going to do a post-2000 Michigan State football version. Not as easy.

Actually, I’m so sure that this is going to be met with plenty of disagreement that I probably won’t even want to check my notifications after posting it. People are going to disagree.

It’s a mixture of me being a prisoner of the moment and nostalgic about one of Michigan State football’s best teams ever. There are a couple of obvious selections, one potentially surprising pick, and one glaring omission.

Please don’t come after me with pitchforks, but here we go.

Connor Cook

This is the most obvious choice. Connor Cook is Michigan State’s all-time leading passer as well as the all-time winningest quarterback. He led the Spartans to a Rose Bowl win, Cotton Bowl win, College Football Playoff appearance, and two Big Ten titles. Cook was also the MVP of the 2015 Big Ten Championship capped off by a controversial handshake.

Cook was the true definition of a gunslinger and took Michigan State to new heights under Mark Dantonio. He is the best quarterback of the past 22 years, and it’s not all that close.

People may knock Cook for not being a captain or not having the highest completion rate, but he took chances down the field and finished his three-year starting career with over 9,000 yards and 71 touchdowns. He was so fun to watch and an easy selection here.

Charles Rogers

Charles Rogers did in two years what no receiver in Michigan State history could do in four. He finished as Michigan State’s all-time touchdown receptions leader, single-season touchdown receptions leader, single-season receiving yards leader, and single-game receiving yards leader.

Oh, and he was third in Michigan State history in receiving yards — in just two (!!) years.

The Saginaw native’s NFL career kind of marred what he did in college, to an extent, but his absolute dominance shouldn’t be forgotten. He finished his career with 2,821 yards and 27 touchdowns with 135 catches — which is top-10 all-time at MSU.

Rogers is unfortunately no longer with us, but he is the most talented receiver the program has ever seen. He’s easily on this Mount Rushmore for me.

Kenneth Walker III

Think what you want, but Kenneth Walker III deserves to be here. I’ll probably get a ton of hate for this since he was only at Michigan State for a year, but he’s still a legend.

Walker won the school’s only Doak Walker Award and was the closest any Spartan in the past 20 years was to winning the Heisman — he should have been in New York. He’s the best running back Michigan State has had since 2000 and it’s had some special ones with TJ Duckett, Javon Ringer, Jeremy Langford, and Le’Veon Bell.

Michigan State doesn’t win 11 games and beat Michigan in 2021 without Walker. He scored an incredible five touchdowns in the win over the Wolverines and dominated against essentially every opponent. Had he played in the Peach Bowl, he would have had the second-best single-season for a running back in school history, yardage-wise.

Ask any Michigan State football fan who they believe was the best running back they can remember in the green and white and most (my age or younger) will tell you Kenneth Walker III.

Darqueze Dennard

I bounced back and forth in my mind with Darqueze Dennard or Kirk Cousins. Since I believe Cook is the best quarterback in MSU history, I had to go with the best defender instead of adding another gunslinger. Dennard was the best defender at Michigan State in the Dantonio era and also the best since 2000.

Guys like Jerel Worthy, Greg Jones, and Shilique Calhoun could make a case for this spot as well, but Dennard was just that good.

Dennard came to Michigan State as a two-star recruit out of Georgia and really burst onto the scene as a sophomore, finishing with 42 tackles, three picks, and three pass breakups. In 2012 and 2013 in his upperclassmen years, he was the leader of one of the best defenses in MSU history. He finished his career with 10 picks and 165 tackles as he was considered one of the best lockdown corners in school history.

Darqueze was an All-American and the 2013 Thorpe Award winner.

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