07/31/08 - Here's an excerpt from a David Murray article that is in the August Dawgs' Bite 2008 football season preview magazine. If you aren't already excited about the upcoming football season, maybe this will put you over the hump.
Success is supposed to increase expectations. And no Bulldog-body has higher hopes for Mississippi State for 2008 than the man who has spent years building his program, in his way. Which is why Coach Sylvester Croom now believes this ball club can do more than compete in the SEC.
They can contend for the SEC.
"Now we're in 2008," says Croom. "Things are a little different."
A great deal different, actually, and for the best of reasons. The 2007 season saw the first consistent success for Mississippi State football since the decade began, and a 8-5 record which nearly matched the total wins of the previous three years. Half of these victories came in SEC play; at the expense of Auburn, Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss. That latter, last-chance comeback put the Bulldogs in the Liberty Bowl where they pulled off another memorable fourth-quarter rally to defeat Central Florida.
It was a fitting finish for a fall that featured almost more drama and trauma than any team should have had to handle. Those Bulldogs achieved above and beyond what anyone else would have dared forecast. Anyone, that is, except Croom and club.
"We had four goals when we started last year. Win the conference championship, go to any bowl game, beat Ole Miss, and beat Alabama. We accomplished all of those goals except one, and to be honest I knew going into the season we were not yet ready, not quite capable of competing well enough to win the conference title."
But then this, as the coach says, is 2008. And some things really are different. Oh, most of his four goals remain the same. But along with those annual MSU ambitions Croom has raised an expectation level another notch because this team has more apparent potential to achieve them.
"Our goals," he now says, "are win the conference championship, go to a B.C.S. bowl game, beat Ole Miss, and beat Alabama." Of course beating those bitterest rivals are normally necessary steps to reach the SEC title game; and victory there is almost assuredly required for a berth in the Bowl Championship Series. Still just the fact that Croom has upgraded the objective reflects his faith in 2008's outlook.
"For the first time when we go into a season each and every one of those goals are realistic expectations. For the first time we go into a season, our players, our coaches, are totally committed, willing to make the sacrifices. And if we get a little break and stay healthy we have a legitimate chance of achieving each and every one of those goals."
For that matter many outside the Bulldog locker room remain unconvinced that State has achieved contender stature. After all, the turnaround of '07 was as tenuous as a single play in any of four contests. Critics are forgetting something, well, something critical. "In 2006 we lost four games by three points," Croom points out. "Last year we made those plays to get those three points. This year we'll be better."
The team's 2008 timing is encouraging, too, given how Croom sees the Southeastern Conference shaping up. After coming out ahead of three league foes that went on to bowl play, twice on the road, "We know we can beat anybody in this conference now if we just play. We're very fortunate that in the SEC West now there's not a clear-cut, dominant team on our side.
"Anybody has a chance to win the conference championship. We need some breaks, but the bottom line is we have the talent-enough of it-to where if you just want it bad enough."