It hasn't been the best of times or the worst of times in good old Stark Vegas this year, but the Mississippi State athletic programs all appear to have some things to be proud of as they look back on the year that was in Bulldog sports.
January 28th - Mississippi State women's basketball has never been on more solid ground. The Bulldogs won a school record 28 games during the 2015-16 slate. Perhaps the victory that showed the SEC that the Bulldogs were for real was the 65-63 overtime win over Tennessee. The hard fought victory, the program's first over the Lady Vols, featured a ferocious 4th quarter comeback that forced the extra period. On that night, the Humphrey Coliseum crowd heard the final horn sound with the game ending rebound safely in the arms of fan favorite Dominique Dillingham. To prove it was no fluke, the Bulldogs beat Tennessee by ten, 58-48 in the SEC Tournament in Jacksonville, Florida.
February 3rd - The old football adage suggests "It's not about X's and O's, but about Jimmies and Joes". Recruiting is the name of the game during the off season. Faced with a limited number of spots fill in the class of 2016, Coach Dan Mullen and his staff had to be a bit selective with their scholarship offers. On National Signing day. five star defensive end Jeffery Simmons, the state's top player, elected to ink with the Bulldogs over several other SEC options including defending national champion Alabama. Simmons elected to stay home and play for the Bulldogs where he earned All-SEC Freshman honors and recorded a perfect 4.0 GPA during his first semester as a Bulldog.
March 20th - For the first time in school history, Mississippi State hosted the first and second round of the NCAA Women's basketball tournament. Before that weekend was over, the Lady Bulldogs won two games including a 74-72 decision over higher seeded Michigan State. The win over the Spartans allowed Coach Vic Schaefer's team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history. The post season run would end the next weekend as the Bulldogs fell to eventual national champion UCONN.
April 8 - 10 - With an impressive baseball road series win at Vanderbilt already in hand, Coach John Cohen and the Diamond Dawgs traveled to Gainesville, Florida to take on the #1 ranked Gators. While it went down to the final pitch, the Bulldogs were able to take two of three from Florida thanks to a 2-1 win in game three. The series win was the fourth consecutive in league play for State who suddenly seemed like a real contender in the SEC and nationally.
May 21 - Weather threatened to play havoc with SEC baseball play on the final weekend of the regular season, but in the end, no rain figuratively or literally fell on the Bulldog baseball parade, For the first time since 1989, Mississippi State was king of the SEC baseball hill. Ironically, John Cohen was a player on the last Diamond Dawg team to win the league title and as a coach became the first SEC skipper in school history to take a team from worst to first overall in SEC history.
June 3-5 - Mississippi State baseball earned their first ever top eight national seed, which allowed the Bulldogs to play every game of the first two rounds right here at home. The Bulldogs swept through their regional in just three games recording wins over Southeast Missouri, Cal State Fullerton and Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs came up just short the following weekend in two Super Regional games against eventual national runner up, Arizona.
July 23 - Coach Dan Mullen and his staff hosted the annual Big Dawg camp just before the beginning of fall camp and reaped some immediate reward. Before the night was over, Tyre Phillips, Deion Pope and Cordavien Suggs had verbally committed to be Bulldogs. Defensive end Montez Sweat would follow shortly after. The night proved to be one of the more significant for the the Bulldogs' 2017 class. Phillips, Pope and Sweat along with six other talented junior college prospects would later ink with State on December 14th in what could be a team defining date.
August 13-14 - Mississippi State track coach Steve Dudley and the Bulldog track and field program saw some real heights. Certainly no moment was higher than having the chance to see Bulldog national champion runners Marta Freitas (Portugal) and Brandon McBride (United States) compete for Olympic Gold. While both saw their efforts come up short of the medal stand, the Bulldog runners represented their University and Countries well. Freitas was later named "2016 Human of the Year" by FloTrack.
September 11 - Coach Ben Howland and the Mississippi State men's basketball program had a tremendous day in September when five star guard Nick Weatherspoon (Velma Jackson High) announced his decision to attend Mississippi State. Weatherspoon, the younger brother of current Bulldog star Quinndary Weatherspoon, elected to stay home and chase championships. The younger Weatherspoon would be the centerpiece of a three man class that included home stater KeyShawn Feazell of Lawrence County and Garrison Brooks, the son of current Bulldog assistant George Brooks. When the signing dust settled, the Bulldogs had another top 15 class under Howland.
October 16 - Former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott would throw three touchdowns in a 30-16 over Green Bay on the road at Lambeau field. The victory, the fifth in a row for Dallas, essentially launched Dak-Mania and laid the ground work for an NFC East title and a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie season. Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have become THE story in the NFL providing Mississippi State football with a three hour info-merical each and every NFL weekend.
November 26 - With their bowl hopes fleeting, Mississippi State found a way to upset then #4 Texas A&M to begin the month and then ended the month with a rout on the road of rival Ole Miss. The 55-20 final tally provided a measure of relief for Bulldog coaches, fans and players who had endured a frustrating season. The 35 point margin of victory was the largest over the Rebels in 100 years of Bulldog football. The victory removed Ole Miss from post season contention, but paved the way for State to slip into the final spot of the 80 team bowl selections. With the Golden Egg back in Starkville and Bulldog bowl fortunes secured, there was plenty of joy in Starkville.
December 26 - As one of just two 5-7 teams in the NCAA bowl field by virtue of the Academic Progress Report, the Bulldogs were headed to St. Petersburg, Florida to face Miami of Ohio, winners of six straight, in the St. Petersburg Bowl. While the Bulldogs struggled to find offensive rhythm much of the first half, State would find just enough second half magic to secure a last second victory. Faced with an unsettling loss to the Red Hawks, the Bulldogs stood tall and blocked the game winning field goal attempt.
As we all look ahead to a new year and several new sports schedules, Bulldog fans have reasons to be optimistic. The Bulldogs have a rising star at quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald. The lady Bulldogs are 14-0 and sporting the highest ranking in school history at #5. The Diamond Dawgs have seen former skipper John Cohen take the reigns of the Athletic Department and hire one of the hottest young coaches in Andy Cannizaro to begin a new era in Bulldog baseball.
The Mississippi State men's team is off to their best start heading into SEC play since 2013. Softball recently inked perhaps the best class in school history and a new hire on the soccer pitch has friends and family of the Bulldog football club looking forward.
2016 saw some memorable moments, but those should open the door for even greater memories in the New Year. May it bring the best to you and your family.