Scott Haynes, College Editor
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 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.