Mississippi State Bulldogs
We begin with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team and fanbase that seldom has had reason for excitement over the past few years. And who could blame them? But a victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa and hard-fought games against Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia suggests the Bulldogs, in Head Coach Sylvester Croom's fourth season, may finally be turning the corner. Nevertheless, a harrowing schedule this year highlighted by games against LSU, West Virginia, Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and others means that more than gradual improvement will be needed to make an impact in the West.
Head Coach: Sylvester Croom, 9-25 in 3 years
Offensive Coordinator: Woody McCorvey
Defensive Coordinator: Ellis Johnson
Projected Depth Chart (returning starters in bold):
QB Michael Henig Jr.
Josh Ridell Jr.
LT Mike Brown Jr.
Mark Melichar Fr.
SLB Gabe O'Neal Sr.
Dominic Douglas Jr.
FS Keith Fitzhugh Jr.
De'Mon Glanton Jr.
RCB Marcus Washington So.
Demario Bobo Jr.
K Adam Carlson Jr.
P Blake McAdams Jr.
KR Derek Pegues Jr.
PR Derek Pegues Jr.
Key Returners: RB Anthony Dixon, WR Tony Burks
The only reason you probably haven't heard the name Anthony Dixon, simply put, is because he plays at Mississippi State. At a hulking 6-1, 240 pounds, he's one of the best young running backs in the SEC and the Bulldogs' workhorse on offense. At quarterback, oft-injured Michael Henig returns for his junior season with hopes of bringing some consistency and production to a position where it has been severely lacking for several years. He has the talent to be a factor but the question is whether he can finally stay healthy. California JUCO QB Josh Riddell was brought in to back up Henig as insurance.
At receiver, MSU returns their top four pass-catchers led by senior Tony Burks, who in 2006 caught 35 passes for 850 yards and five touchdowns. Morehead State transfer Brandon McRae, Jameyal Smith, Aubrey Bell and Lance Long are also expected to contribute. Veteran tight ends Eric Butler and Dezmond Sherrod also return.
Up front, four starters return after a mediocre performance last season, finishing ninth in the conference in sacks allowed with 29. They're led by senior center Royce Blackledge and junior left tackle Mike Brown, a name many Gator fans will recognize from his years as a Gator before transferring to MSU.
Key Returners: DE Titus Brown, SS Derek Pegues
Key Newcomers: 4* JUCO DT Jessie Bowman, 4* DE Jazzmen Guy
While highlighted by some All-SEC talents, the Bulldogs' overall defense is a huge question mark going into next season. Numerous players have changed positions to accommodate the departures and arrivals of other players so the defense will definitely have a new look in 2007. Whether it's an improvement from a unit that finished 11th in the SEC in points allowed remains to be seen. Senior defensive end Titus Brown is a tremendous threat off the edge, piling up seven and a half sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss last season and earning second team All-SEC honors. Junior Jamar Chaney moves to middle linebacker position where he should be solid alongside senior Gabe O'Neal. But the absence of departed starters Quinton Culberson and Deljuan Robinson will be greatly felt.
The secondary replaces three starters but returns an All-SEC caliber player in Derek Pegues, who will play strong safety this year after starting at corner in 2006. The Bulldogs were atrocious in pass defense last season so perhaps some new faces will bring improvement. Much like the MSU football team as a whole, there's really no other way to go but up.
Special Teams Breakdown:
Both the starting placekicker and punter return for their junior season. Pegues, in addition to his defensive prowess, will once again return kicks and punts after excelling at the job a year ago.