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These Dogs Have More Bite

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When Mississippi State hired Sylvester Croom in 2004, the Bulldogs got the right man for the job. Croom's resume is second to none, with success at both the collegiate and NFL levels, not to mention deep ties to the Southeastern Conference. MSU chose Croom not because he would be the first African-American head coach in SEC history, but because there wasn't a better candidate, period.

There was no denying that the Bulldogs had slipped into the basement in the SEC and for the most part, set up shop there for several years. Longtime coach Jackie Sherrill announced his retirement midseason last year and his team proceeded to lose six straight to close out the year. In his last three seasons in Starkville, the Bulldogs won a mere eight games overall. That kind of ineptness on the gridiron left the powers that be with the task of resurrecting this once-proud program.

Sylvester Croom
Sylvester Croom is the right man for the job at Mississippi State.

Following the Mike Price fiasco at Alabama, the Crimson Tide made what some consider a huge mistake by not turning the program over to Tuscaloosa native Croom. I mean, who better to bring Alabama back to glory, than a man who was a big part of it. Croom was an All-American center with the Tide, winning a national title in 1973. He was also a Bear Bryant assistant, who was part of two more national championships (1978-79). However, Alabama went in another direction bringing in Mike Shula, leaving Croom on the outside looking in.

Well, Alabama's loss is certainly Mississippi State's gain, as Croom will undoubtedly bring a winning team back to Starkville. He already has, as the Bulldogs opened the season with a rather convincing 28-7 rout of Tulane last week. The victory gives MSU its first winning record since taking the season- opener in 2001, a telling statistic for a team that had fallen off the face of the college football world.

While Tulane is certainly not in the same arena as the big boys in the SEC (LSU, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee or Auburn), the win over the Green Wave may be the start of something in Starkville. Both sides of the football played well last week for MSU. The offense was led by a rushing attack that mounted nearly 200 yards, led by tailback Jerious Norwood, who gained over 100 yards on the ground (112), including a nine-yard TD scamper to open up the scoring. He was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. Fred Reid and Darnell Jones would add TD runs of their own in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Sophomore quarterback Omar Conner was nothing to write home about, throwing for just 102 yards and one TD, but he made few mistakes in his first career start under center for the Bulldogs.

Defensively, MSU's defenders were ravenous, holding Tulane to just 205 yards of total offense (the best mark in the last 19 games), with modest gains on the ground (70 yards, 2.4 ypc) and through the air (135 yards). There aren't any household names on this unit, but that may change as the season wears on.

Although the season-opening victory was nice for the program, the real meat of the 2004 campaign begins this week, with nationally-ranked Auburn coming to town. Two weeks later, it is a road trip to defending-national champion LSU, followed by the Florida Gators shortly after that. Getting wins in-conference is what Croom was brought in to do and that task begins this weekend.

The Bulldogs haven't posted an SEC-opening win in five years and haven't won an SEC Western Division tilt in two. Vying for an SEC-West title is not in the near future, but expect Croom to have his team ready to compete each week.

Mississippi State may be fighting an uphill battle each time, but one thing is for sure, these Bulldogs are certainly showing more teeth these days and the man they call "Sly" is the reason why.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes
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