Good Dogs or Bad Dogs?

Jackie Sherrill's Mississippi State Bulldogs look to be a mystery team.

Hoover, Ala.--Heading into the 2002 season the Mississippi State Bulldogs are still trying to figure out why. How did Jackie Sherrill's SEC West preseason favorites quickly sink to the cellar in 2001 with a 3-8 record?

"Everybody asks me about last year's football team," Sherrill says. "Well, we were supposed to be good and that's true. If we had done a better job then I really feel we would have won five more games."

The Bulldogs are returning a lot of talent from a team that at least was very competitive in its last three games of the season. Over that span the Bulldogs beat their archrival Ole Miss, scored 95 points and averaged more than 400 yards per game. "We're returning 70 percent of our production from the last half of the season," Sherrill notes.

Some of the talent that the coach is speaking of includes junior quarterback Kevin Fant, senior tailback Dontae Walker and senior fullback Justin Griffith. Talented receivers Terrell Grindle and Donald Lee also return.

With some significant firepower at his command, Sherrill says that he is excited about the chances of his 2002 squad improving on last season's effort. "I like this football team. We have more speed, more skill players coming back." Sherrill adds that he likes the attitude of the 2002 Bulldogs and the effort he has seen in the spring and offseason.

Sherrill says there is still one area where he would definitely like to see some major improvements heading into the season. "Concerns about this football team are depth at the defensive line. We're going to have to develop some depth there."

The top returnees for Mississippi State on defense include senior linebacker Mario Haggan and senior free safety Josh Morgan. Other defenders returning for the Bulldogs are senior cornerbacks Korey Banks and Demetric Wright, defensive tackles Tommy Kelley, a junior, and Kahil Nash, a senior, plus junior linebacker T.J. Mawhinney.

There is one other not so small problem other than a lack of depth at defensive end for the Bulldogs heading into the 2002 season. Recent reports have indicated that there could be NCAA problems on the horizon for the Bulldogs and MSU officials have noted that NCAA investigators have been in Starkville questioning current MSU athletes. However, Sherrill seems relatively calm about the situation in his public comments on the situation. "You're concerned anytime," he explains. "How do you define concerned, five percent, 10 percent, considering I'm not jumping off a cliff. If there is any issues out there we will deal with it."

Sherrill claims there are potentially problems with every program. "Any university in this country, you let me spend six weeks and I'll give you some issues," he says. Sherrill adds that he believes that a majority of the recent problems with the NCAA for SEC schools have come due to complaints from other schools within the SEC. "I said to the Alabama fans do not stick your chest out and throw mud because that mud is going to stick with you. And that's probably the biggest thing that is happening in this league is that we have a lot of people throwing a lot of mud."

The jury is definitely still out on the 2002 version of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Coming off of an abysmal 3-8 season and with reports of NCAA troubles on the horizons, the outlook is certainly not too rosy in Starkville. However, with seven offensive starters returning form a team that scored 95 points in its final three games and seven solid defensive starters back with a mission to avenge last season's plummet, the Bulldogs could make some noise in 2002. They might be the darkhorse in the SEC West. Yet, the media sure doesn't predict that will happen after placing the Bulldogs as their pick to finish last in the Western Division at the SEC Media Days.

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