With there being so little college football news to discuss right now, things are and will be a little slow here at GeauxTuscaloosa. I think to make a few column inches, I'll give a quick preview of our first opponent of the 2007 season: the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
We face them to open the season on a nationally televised Thursday night game. It is, I think, our first regular season Thursday game ever.
Bottom line? I don't expect Mississippi State to be very good, and I don't expect them to be able to seriously challenge us. Last year, Mississippi State started the season with probably the most inept offense I'd ever seen in the SEC. They didn't score a point in either of their first two games. They had a hard time with basic things like getting the right players on the field and getting the play called in time to avoid a delay of game penalty. It was honestly like watching a high school JV team.
Things definitely improved for the offense as the season went on, and the Bulldog defense was solid year-round, culminating in the Bulldogs beating Bama and playing Georgia and Kentucky (both bowl teams) close. The offense should benefit from its growing pains of last year, and we won't see that level of ineptitude this year, but it still is not very good..
Anthony Dixon is a solid running back, and he'll be the focus of the offense. The offensive line, so utterly inept at times last year, is one year older and more experienced, though still will be among the younger offensive lines in the conference. Quarterback Michael Henig did not have a good year in an injury-plagued season, completing under 50% of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. Tony Burks was their only real receiving threat last year, averaging an impressive 25 yards per reception on 35 receptions last year.
The problem Mississippi State has is that the growth of its offense will be countered by losses on defense. Mississippi State loses many of the best players. Quentin Culberson, who seemed to play every position and seemed to play there for 10 years finally ran out of eligibility and is attempting to ply his wares in the NFL. The front 4 also takes a hit with the loss of three starters including DT Antonio Johnson, MSU's only drafted player.
The best returning defensive player is CB Derek Pegues, but a team that loses so many of its best defensive players and hasn't really recruited very well recently will certainly feel a big sting.
I'm not saying they can't give us trouble. Sure they can. Anyone can. I'm saying that if we have any chance of competing for the SEC or the National Championship, then MSU is not a team that should give us trouble. I think if everything goes wrong for the Tigers, which means in essence that the passing game doesn't show up and the safeties fail, we should be able to run the ball on their inexperienced and undertalented front 7, and we should be able to menace their offense with our front 7. If MSU is in this game in the 4th quarter, it simply means that we are not as good as we thought.
On a related note, back in 2003 when Bama was deciding between hiring Mike Shula and hiring Sylvester Croom, I told everyone who would listen that Croom was the better choice. Shula had never been a head coach anywhere and had never coached college in any capacity. Croom, while never being head coach, had significant college coaching experience. He also seemed to have more of a head coach's personality. I thought Bama was hiring Shula more because his name was Shula and he was a former QB there than for any reason having to do with skill. I still think I'm right about that.
I was wrong, however, about Croom. Since his hire by MSU, they have really not gotten any better at all, and as mentioned, their offense last year was inept at levels that really aren't acceptable for a major college program. In the third year of your program, there is no excuse for not being able to do things like get the field goal unit on the field in time to run a play without a penalty. In his third year, they looked like a Division I-AA team at times, and in his second year, a Division I-AA team actually beat them.
I thought Croom would own the state of Mississippi in recruiting. He has not. Ole Miss clearly has the upper hand in recruiting despite trying to recruit mostly African-Americans against the only African-American coach in the conference, while having a mascot like Colonel Reb. MSU has every built-in advantage in recruiting in that state, and should be burying Ole Miss, but it appears to be the other way around, as Ole Miss continues to put together solid recruiting classes and MSU fills their rosters with JUCOs and 2-star recruits.
Honestly, I don't expect Croom to still be MSU's coach at this time next year.