2006 Record: 3-9 (1-7 in SEC play)
Head Coach: Sylvester Croom (4th year, 9-25 overall)
Key Additions/SubtractionsA)Robert Elliot RB, (A)Jessie Bowman DL, (S)Quinten Culberson DL,
With 8 returning offensive starters, State will experience offensive stability for the first time under Coach Sylvester Croom’s tenure at State. A defense that allowed 25.8 points per game in 2006 (83rd in the nation) returns just five starters and appears to be a primary weakness. With West Virginia on its 2007 schedule (at Morgantown), in addition to its difficult conference opponents, the 2007 campaign stands to be challenging for the Bulldogs.
The Series and State History
The Bulldogs have a series record of 17-71-3 against Bama, and have played the Tide more times than any other opponents other than LSU and Ole Miss. Although the series has a long history since the first meeting in 1896, State has garnered 5 of its 17 wins in the last 11 meetings. Alabama was State’s sole SEC victim last year, a 24-16 win that was the Bulldogs first win against the Tide since 2000. In national rankings, the Bulldogs have finished with an AP top 10 ranking just once, a number nine ranking in 1940. An SEC Championship in 1941 and a share of the SEC Western Division in 1998 under former Tider Jackie Sherrill represent the full extent State’s SEC success. Ten win seasons were achieved in 1940 and 1999.
For the Bulldogs to have success this year the offense will have to step up and score points and keep their porous defense off the field. The player most likely to step up in 2007 is quarterback Michael Henig (Jeff Davis HS, Montgomery).
Michael Henig MSU/Doug Pensinger-Getty Images
When healthy, Henig played pretty well for a team that has experienced major disapointment at the quarterback position in recent years. His accuracy has to improve (44% completion rate) but he did manage to throw for 7 touchdowns and 1,200 yards his sophomore season in 2006. After fracturing his collarbone twice last year, Henig spent the off-season bulking up in an attempt to withstand the grueling SEC schedule.
Helping carry the offensive load will be sophomore running back Anthony Dixon. Dixon stepped right in as a freshman last season and led the team in rushing with over 600 yards and a whopping 9 touchdowns while starting in only 5 of the team's 12 contests. A workhorse back, he seemed to get more comfortable as the year went on, rushing for over 100 yards in two of his final 3 games. Ranking as one of Sylvester Croom's most highly touted recruits Dixon played his high school ball at Jackson's Terry High. As a senior he was selected to play in the Mississippi-Alabama High School All-Star game and was ranked as high as 19th in the country at his position by various publications.
The signing of Okolona High School running back Robert Elliot should help give the Dogs a solid 1-2 combo at tailback. Coming out of high school Elliot was dubbed the 5th-best running back in the nation by SuperPrep, while Scout.com rated him as the 55th-best prospect (regardless of position) in the country. In the end Elliot chose State over Ole Miss and Alabama.
Unfortunately for State, the situation at wide receiver isn't nearly as rosy as it is with some of the other offensive positions. By Croom's own account the off-season development of his receivers has been a painful process to watch. In scrimmage after scrimmage the unit has been described as MIA. Statistically, the leaders of the group appear to be senior Tony Burks (6-4, 215) and junior Jamayel Smith. Though the duo only combined for 55 receptions last season, 7 of them went for scores. If these two can play with more consistency it will not only help Henig, but it should take some of the pressure off the running game as well.
The offensive line returns virtually intact, though several players will be lining up in new positions. With their overall experience though there is potential for the unit to be solid in 2007.
The defense has the potential to be decent this year, but a lot of players with limited experience will have to step in and step up for that to happen. The Bulldogs lack experience at corner and are also having to replace three of their 4 starters on the defensive front. That's not an enviable position to be in when you play in the Southeastern Conference.
The star up front is 6-3, 250-pound senior defensive end Titus Brown (of Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa). Brown is a solid lineman who excels at rushing the passer. He finished his junior campaign racking up over 30 tackles and 7.5 sacks en route to a slot on the SEC All-Conference Team (2nd team). His 14.5 tackles for loss last season also ranked third within the SEC.
Lining up alongside Brown will likely be JUCO transfer Jessie Bowman, senior and special teams phenom Avery Hannibal, and junior Cortez McCrany. While there is talent within the unit none of them has much game experience at State. They will likely be learning on the fly this season, though they should improve as the season wears on. Mississippi State may find themselves with a very solid, serviceable group by the middle of the season.
The linebacking corps is young and talented, led by senior Gabe O'Neal. While initially limited by a shoulder injury early last season he still managed to record 40 tackles, while stepping into a starting role by mid-season. O'Neal has seen extensive action on the Bulldogs defense since his freshman year.
Jamar Chaney will man the weakside backers position after putting together a fantastic freshman campaign that saw him finish third on the team in tackles with 66. Seven of those tackles went for a loss of yardage, while also recording 2.5 sacks for good measure.
The best player in the secondary (and maybe on the defense) is junior Derek Pegues. Pegues has played his entire career at corner but is expected to make the move to free safety this season. Pegues had a very solid sophomore season finishing 2006 with more than 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4 interceptions. Pegues also managed to take two of those picks all the way to the house for scores.
As good as Pegues was for the team last year he can't do it all on his own. The rest of the secondary will be filled out by special teamers and reserves with limited experience. If the newcomers don't play well early on it could be a very very long season for the defense.
With both its kicker and punter returning, the Bulldogs look to build on its special teams. Adam Carlson returns for his junior season after booting 6 of 12 field goal attempts and 27 of 28 PATs in 2006. Punting will be handled again by Junior Blake McAdams, who averaged 38.3 yards per kick in 2006 (84th nationally). Punt coverage suffered as a result of McAdams’ punting average. State’s 31.7 yard net punting average placed them 107th nationally.
On the return side, DB Derek Pegues looks to repeat his stellar 2006 returning punts, when he averaged 14 yards per return (10th nationally). Pegues will return kickoffs as well.
Look for MSU to improve on the offensive side of the ball, but their offensive improvement will not sufficiently offset defensive weaknesses to make any headway outside the State of Mississippi.
Season prediction: 4-8
Game Prediction: Bama 34, MSU 13