At this time next week, the MSU players, coaches and fans will know a lot more about this year's version of the MSU football team. Will the teams look for like the early season team or late season team from last year? Fans are eagerly awaiting the 5 p.m. CST start time of MSU's game against the ranked Oregon Ducks to find out.
I do know this much. This team is ready to play. They aren't the least bit afraid of facing the Oregon Ducks in Eugene, Oregon. About the only thing some of them are afraid of is the flight to Oregon. We're having to deal with that same thing in our household because this is Mary Ann's first flight ever.
Most so-called experts expect Oregon to easily defeat MSU. As we MSU fans learned last season, expectations mean nothing when the season starts.
A team that was expected to contend for the SEC championship last season, MSU wound up last in the West and finished the season 3-8. What that tells you is never take expectations too seriously when you have many unknowns. And MSU had its share going into last season.
First, MSU brought in quite a few junior college signees, most of whom were expected to come right in and play immediately. Five of the six defensive linemen who played the most snaps last season were either jucos or a prep school transfer. Not a single one of them had played D-I ball, much less D-I ball like is played in the SEC. Both starting cornerbacks from last season were juco transfers. It was a tall oder to ask all of those players to come in, start and perform up to the standards needed to win a championship. While this turned out to disastrous for MSU last season, the upside is they now all have experience in the SEC ball. Everyone of them will be better this season.
Other unknowns included how well Mario Haggan would perform at defensive end after earning All-American honors at linebacker the year before. Also, how would his replacement, T.J. Mawhinny, a former walk-on do in his place? Although T.J. performed well once he got his feet week and he got over his injuries, it was obvious the defense missed Mario's presence in the middle. He is now back at the middle linebacker spot. Both he and T.J. will play alongside each other a lot this year, according to Coach Sherrill.
The defense wasn't the only side of the ball with question marks. The offense had question marks at the offensive line and wide receiver.
With no experienced center, MSU's coaches moved Tommy Watson there from his guard position. Tommy never got comfortable with the switch and was eventually moved back to guard with former walk-on offensive center Blake Jones taking his place at center. Tommy is gone, but Blake now has a year's worth of SEC experience under his belt.
The wide receiver unit had talent last season. However the question mark was who would step up and be the go-to guy. No one took up that challenge until the early part of the second half of the season when Justin Jenkins starting making plays.
Another unknown was how would the kicker and punter, John Michael Marlin and Jared Cook, perform? John Michael was very, very inconsistent last season, while Jared Cook was also inconsistent but showed signs of becoming a very good punter. Both now have a year's worth of SEC ball behind them. Coach Sherrill has been impressed with both during the preseason practices.
Now, MSU heads into another football season. And just as they had unknowns last season, they have a few this year. I won't go into detail about all the unknowns, just the ones that appear to be the most concerning.
The first that comes to mind is the defensive line. The three starters, Tommy Kelly, Kahlil Nash and Ronald Fields, are just about as good a group as MSU has ever had talent-wise. The only group that I would consider better were Dorsett Davis, Willie Blade and Toby Golliday. And that is because those three had tremendous knowledge of the game.
Behind Kelly, Nash and Fields, MSU's depth is questionable. Michael Oyefesobi has speed but still has to show he is ready to be a major contributor. He has a year's experience under his belt, so maybe he will this season. Lennie Day will also play a backup role. He has gained 20 pounds since last year. Now, we have to see if that will help keep him from being manhandled by bigger offensive linemen. If those two guys can come through and provide depth and MSU can avoid injuries on the D-line, then this unit could be solid. If one or more of the starters get hurt during the season, then MSU could be in serious trouble at this position.
The offensive line is another question mark. Only two starters return, center Blake Jones and tackle Donald Tucker. Between them, they have a combined 12 starts. One other starter, David Stewart, has three starts, while the other two, Michael Allen and Brad Weathers, have not started a game. Depth is also a concern, although Chris McNeil and Will Rogers look like they will give excellent depth at guard and center. Both could even be ready to step up to the starting unit if any of the starters falter. Veteran Carl Hutchins, if he gets over his injury, will give adequate depth at one tackle position while true freshman Richard Burch is expected to contribute some this season as a backup tackle. The line coaches and Coach Sherrill have been very impressed with his play during the preseason. If the starters improve as the season progresses and the backups do as expected, this could become a very solid part of the team. While an injury on the starting unit would hurt, it would not hurt nearly as much as it would on the D-line.
A third concern is the kicking game. Neither placekicker John Michael Marlin or punter Jared Cook were consistent last season. A lack of SEC experience was partly to blame in my opinion. While both have drawn praise from Coach Sherrill as being more consistent during practices, how they will do on the field this year is still a question mark. The placekicker position, based upon seeing the two other kickers, Brent Smith and Keith Andrews, perform leads me to believe MSU will find a good kicker among that group of three. Cook is backed up by Robert Wallis, a walk-on from Columbus, Mississippi. He has shown a good leg at times. If both of the starters get off to a good start, then this will become a very solid part of the team.
Depth behind starting quarterback Kevin Fant is also a concern, not so much due to talent, but more because of lack of experience. However, almost all of the D-I programs in America could say the same thing. Backup QB Kyle York is a redshirt freshman who has never taken a snap in a game. He has talent, is smart and works hard, but he is an unknown due to lack of experience. The third quarterback is true freshman Justin Tyler. Look for him to redshirt unless both Fant and York get injured. As long as Fant stays healthy, MSU will be very good, maybe even great, at this position.
Another unknown is how well Robert Spivey and linebacker-turned-defensive end Jason Clark will perform as MSU's starting defensive ends. They have quality backups in two former juco All-Americans, Kamau Jackson and Corey Brown, and true freshman Marvin Byrdsong, a Parade All-American in high school. If the starters hold up, then this position will become a strength of the ballclub even if it has an injury.
Other than those positions, MSU has quality starters with experience and solid depth at all the other positions. Last year, MSU could not say that.
Now, it is time to play ball and get these questions answered.
Football Fan Day
Between 3,000 and 4,000 MSU fans showed up for Fan Day this past Saturday. Due to the heat, Fan Day was held in the Humphrey Coliseum. Each position coach introduced all of the players at their positions. After each group of players were introduced and before folks started their tour of the players' tables to get autographs, the MSU Athletic Department officials recorded the sound of cowbells ringing in the Hump. To say it was deafening would be an understatement. The sound will be played through the jumbotron for each game this season.
With the recent commitment of McComb High School center Jackie Butler, MSU now has commitments from three players that are ranked in the top 38 in the country, according to TheInsidersHoops.com. The rankings are done by TheInsiders recruiting expert Dave Telep who watches each player perform throughout the summer all-star games. Butler is ranked 25th, while Travis Outlaw is ranked 12th and Gary Ervin is ranked 38th. MSU is the only team that has more than 2 commitments among the top 38. Michigan State has two.
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On the front of the message board is a link called MY CONTROL CENTER. Click on it. When the next page appears, click on EDIT PREFERENCES. That takes you to another page. On that page you will see OTHER OPTIONS on the right-hand side. In that section is a small box on the left-hand side of ACCEPT PRIVATE MESSAGES. If there is no check mark in it, then you have not set up your private message feature. Check mark it and you are good to go and will be able to receive private messages.
UPCOMING CALENDAR EVENTS
Mary Ann has added all of the spring and summer Bulldog Celebration and other MSU events to the calendar that she has been notified of. If you don't see yours on the calendar, please email her at the email address listed below.
If you have a MSU related event coming up and you don't see it listed on the Gene's Page calendar, email Mary Ann your information and she will post it on the calendar. We purchased the calendar for your use, so please don't hesitate using it. Mary Ann's new email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Archived Monday Morning Coffee Break Articles:
August 12, 2002
July 22, 2002
July 8, 2002
June 24, 2002
June 17, 2002
June 10, 2002
June 3, 2002
May 27, 2002
May 20, 2002
May 13, 2002
May 6, 2002
April 29, 2002
April 22, 2002
April 8, 2002
April 1, 2002
March 25, 2002
March 4, 2002
Feb. 25, 2002
Feb. 18, 2002
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Feb. 4, 2002
Jan. 28, 2002
Jan. 21, 2002
Jan. 14, 2002
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Dec. 31, 2001
Dec. 24, 2001
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Dec. 3, 2001
Nov. 26, 2001
Nov. 19, 2001
Nov. 12, 2001
Nov. 7, 2001
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.