Carroll Makes Immediate Impression

FAYETTEVILLE — Wesley Carroll had already experienced the culture shock of moving from South Florida to the heart of Mississippi.

But the undersized quarterback with the questionable arm also had to deal with being thrown into the starting lineup as a wide-eyed freshman.

In one of the more unlikely stories of 2007, Carroll took over as Mississippi State's starter in the first month of the season, threw 137 passes before his first interception and led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record and a bowl victory.

"It means a lot for a guy from South Florida to go to the middle of Mississippi," said Carroll, who starred at St. Thomas Aquinas — a football power in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "It's a big culture change, but my instinct told me to come to Mississippi State and I can't complain."

MSU coach Sylvester Croom has had little to complain about when it comes to Carroll, who last season helped the Bulldogs realize a massive turnaround that started when Croom arrived in Starkville in 2004.

Physically, Carroll looks more like a kicker than a starting quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. He's listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, and even Croom admits that the sophomore doesn't have a great arm.

But the former third-string quarterback made up for his lack of size by showing good decision-making in 2007.

Carroll didn't throw his first interception until the 10th game of the season, and he nearly set an NCAA freshman record by throwing 137 passes without a pick.

"He's won more games than any quarterback (at) Mississippi State in the last eight years, so that says a lot for him in this conference," Croom said at last month's SEC Media Days. "You usually don't expect your quarterback in this conference to play until his third year."

MSU's plan for the upcoming season is to make Carroll a bigger part of its West Coast offense. He passed for 1,392 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, but Croom has opened up the offense to let Carroll make more decisions and take advantage of his speedy receivers.

"It seems like he's put a lot more into my hands at the quarterback position," Carroll said, "primarily to make more reads at the line of scrimmage."

So far, so good.


DIFFERENCE MAKER: Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2007, rushing for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns. This came after the 6-foot-1, 240-pound tailback put his name on the map by scoring nine touchdowns as a freshman. The Bulldogs would love to see Dixon continue the trend of improving on his numbers from the previous season.

RISING STAR: Linebacker Jamar Chaney was MSU's leading tackler last season, and he was one of two players who represented the Bulldogs at last month's SEC Media Days. Chaney isn't a star known much outside of Mississippi, but the senior could be if he records another 89 tackles this season.

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Although MSU ranked toward the bottom in the SEC in several offensive categories, the team returns many of its weapons in Carroll and Dixon. The Bulldogs also have some speedy wide receivers they hope to get more involved this season.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Mississippi State was one of college football's best stories in 2007, seemingly coming out of nowhere to win 8 games. Croom was named the SEC's coach of the year. But the question remains: Can they build off their success or was last season a fluke?

MARK YOUR CALENDAR: Croom is a former star player at Alabama, and lately he's had recent success against his former school. He's won the past two meetings, including a 17-12 upset last season in Starkville. The Bulldogs could be on their way to another bowl game if they beat the Crimson Tide for a third straight year on Nov. 15.

FORECAST: 7-5, 3-5 in the SEC

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