2004 MSU Bulldogs Football Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> Sylvester Croom (First year) <br><br> <b>Last Season's Record:</b> 2-10 (1-7, 5th in SEC Western Division) <br><br> <b>Last Bowl Appearance:</b> 2000 Independence Bowl (43-41 OT Win over <A HREF=http://tamu.TheInsiders.com>Texas A&M</A>) <br><br> <b>Key matchup(s):</b> Sept. 4 <A HREF=http://tulane.TheInsiders.com>Tulane</A> (ESPN-2), Oct. 9th <A HREF=http://uab.TheInsiders.com>UAB</A>, Nov. 27 @<A HREF=http://mississippi.TheInsiders.com>Ole Miss</A>.

Star Power: Richard Burch, OT, Jr., 6-5, 305; Jerious Norwood, HB, Jr., 6-0, 200; David Stewart, OT, Sr. 6-6, 310; Marvin Byrdsong, MLB, Jr., 6-2, 240; Ronald Fields, DT, Sr., 6-2, 310; Quinton Culberson, CB, So., 6-0, 210.

Notable Additions: Jonathan Lowe, WR/KR, Central HS (Phenix City, AL), 5-7, 165; Anthony Strauder, DL, Natchez (MS) HS, 6-4, 287; Robert Walker, TE/DE, Southwest (Miss.) Community College, 6-3, 262; Corey Spells, CB, Mays HS (Atlanta, GA), 5-11, 185; Brian Staley, CB, Georgia Military College, 5-9, 185.

Notable Subtractions: Nick Turner, HB, Dismissed from the team, Justin Jenkins, WR, Graduated, Kevin Fant, QB, Graduated, Brent Smith, K, Graduated, T. J. Mawhinney, LB, Graduated, Odell Bradley, CB, Graduated, Jason Clark, LB/DE, Graduated, Tommy Kelly, DT, Graduated.

Notable Returnees: Darnell Jones, FB, Sr., 5-11, 245; Will Rogers, OG, Sr., 6-4, 325; Kevin Dockery, CB, Jr., 5-10, 185; Willie Evans, DE, Jr., 6-2, 255; Jeramie Johnson, SS, So., 6-0, 195; Darren Williams, FS, Jr., 6-2, 205; Jared Cook, P Sr., 5-10, 188.

09/25/04@Louisiana State
Offensive Overview: One of the strengths of the team will be a slimmed down offensive line that has all of its starters back except for center Blake Jones. Junior left tackle Richard Burch and senior right tackle David Stewart both have NFL talent. Junior center Chris McNeil is a hard worker who can be very good if he is mentally ready to take on the challenges of being a starter. Senior Will Rogers, the right guard, is a solid player. Junior Johnny Wadley, if he is healthy, is a powerful offensive guard.

The fullback is another position that is a strength. With senior Darnell Jones returning and senior Nick Signaigo and sophomore Bryson Davis behind him, fullback is experienced and has depth.

The weaknesses are depth at almost all of the positions and inexperience at others. The crucial quarterback position has a wide receiver turned quarterback in sophomore Omarr Conner. Conner, who was an outstanding quarterback in high school, will have to learn a new system while playing in games. His backup, junior Kyle York, wasn't able to go through contact work during the spring due to rehabbing from a shoulder injury. Tight end has some talent but no one has played a complete game. There are no sure threats at wide receiver, although there are a lot of players. And to make matters worse, one of the top returners, Ray Ray Bivines, may miss part or all of the season due to an injury.

Mississippi State will run a version of the West Coast offense, similar to what the Green Bay Packers run.

Defensive Overview: While young, the defensive line may be the most talented and deepest positions on the football team. With starters Ronald Fields, a senior defensive tackle, and Willie Evans, a junior defensive end, the Bulldogs have a couple of veterans who can lead the youngsters. Sophomore defensive end Deljuan Robinson is a star in the making. Backup defensive end Michael Heard, a sophomore, has a lot of talent and could prove to be a pass-rush star. Corey Clark, a redshirt freshman defensive tackle, can be a great one if he continues to develop and works hard on his conditioning.

The three starting linebackers - Marvin Byrdsong, Clarence McDougal and Brad Horton - are a solid group, with Byrdsong a possible All-SEC candidate.

With the addition of two-time junior college All-American cornerback Brian Staley and newcomers Mario Bobo and Corey Spells, the cornerback positions went from being a little above average to very solid.

Depth at linebacker and at the safeties positions are real concerns. Several youngsters - Gabe O'Neal, Anthony Littlejohn and Titus Brown - may have to factor in if veteran Chris Swain can't handle his new linebacker position. MSU, coming out of spring practice, had three athletes who were ready to play safety in a game, Darren Williams, Jeramie Johnson and Slovakia Griffith. Griffith missed part of the spring due to an injury. MSU will have to count on a youngster or two to provide depth.

The Bulldogs defense will be a standard 4-3.

Special Teams Overview: The good news is there is plenty of experience coming back with starting punter Jared Cook, starting holder Joe Judge and starting deep snapper Russell Cook all returning. The bad news is that All-SEC kicker Brent Smith is gone. Replacing him is unproven sophomore Keith Andrews, a very talented kicker who kicked off in several games last season.

Kick and punt returner Fred Reid has experience, but MSU will miss Nick Turner who was dismissed from the team last winter. True freshman Jonathan Lowe, who is electrifying in the open field, could also figure in at these two positions.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs will win 6 games and go to a bowl game if... they can stay healthy and sophomore quarterback Omarr Conner plays like he did in high school.

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