MSU went into a tailspin after that that saw them lose 5 of 6 games, including the South Carolina game. The losses were by 15, 34, 3, 31 and 28 points. The only victory was a 16-10 win over UAB. And that was in overtime.
Henig did play a little in in the last of the five losses, the 42-14 loss to West Virginia. But once he shook the rust off, the offense starting showing signs of life.
After the loss to West Virginia, the Bulldogs, with a healthy Henig back at quarterback, won 2 of their next 5 games. And the losses were by 3, 3 and 14 points.
However, the productivity wasn't all due to Henig being back. The offensive line showed signs of being one of the better OLs in the SEC. And the emergence of freshman running back Anthony Dixon also helped the cause. Over the course of the last three games of the season, Anthony rushed for 335 yards on 67 carries, giving MSU the big back that Coach Croom has always felt was needed to be successful in the SEC.
But hard luck seemed to follow the football team because Henig once again broke his collar bone in the Arkansas loss, causing him to miss the Ole Miss game. However, even without Henig, senior QB Omarr Conner gave a valiant effort that saw the Bulldogs come up 3 points short on the road to the Rebels.
While the team wound up with a disappointing 3-9 season (4 losses were by 3 points), the play of the offensive line, most of whom will be back this coming season, and Anthony Dixon, along with a healthy Michael Henig, gives hopes for the 2007 season.
Inexperience at three of the four defensive line spots and both cornerback positions is, no doubt, an area of concern. But MSU, if Henig stays healthy, should still wind up winning 5, 6 or 7 games this coming season.
Soccer - After going 4-11-3 in 2005 and returning 17 of 23 lettermen, there was reason for optimism going into the 2006 season. But the team had a disappointing 2-16 record instead. If you are looking for positives, eight of the sixteen losses were by one point and 3 others were by 2. And, of the 11 players that started the last game of the season, 10 should return. And 7 of last year's 11 starters were either freshmen or sophomores.
Volleyball - Going into her fourth year as the head coach, Tina Seals has the MSU volleyball program headed in the right direction. After seeing her first team go 14-16 (5-11 in the SEC), her second unit was 15-12 (6-10 in the SEC) and her third team did even better, going 17-13 with a 8-12 SEC record. After a tough SEC start that saw them lose 6 of their first 7 matches, the team won 7 of their last 13. And with 12 of 13 players (11 lettermen) from last year's team expected to return, this year's team could be the best yet under Seals.
Men's Basketball - Although they didn't make the NCAA Tournament after going 17-12 overall and 8-8 in the SEC (tied for first in the SEC West), the way this team played at the end of the season, including in the NIT, and the return of a very talented nucleus of players is causing a lot of optimism among fans, players and coaches alike.
And it should.
State won 9 of their last 13 games. And while senior Dietric Slater, a part-time starter, and starters Richard and Reginald Delk transferred, the return of All-SEC players Jamont Gordon (1st team) and Charles Rhodes (2nd team) and SEC All-Freshmen Team members Ben Hansbrough and Barry Stewart form a great nucleus of returning players. And when you add in sophomore-to-be Jarvis Varnado (a big man that Coach Stansbury thinks could be the best big man he's had on teams that he's coached) and big man transfer Brian Johnson, things looked even brighter.
Women's Basketball - While fans are excited about men's basketball, the women's team may be just as good this coming season.
After being chosen 12th in the SEC in the pre-season by the media, last year's team wound up 18-14 overall and 7-7 in the SEC, which was good enough for 6th place. And they did it with a roster that included no seniors and 11 of 15 players who were either freshmen or sophomores. In fact, among the eight-man rotation there were three freshmen and three sophomores.
There are legitimate reasons for optimism for the upcoming season.
Men's Golf - After finishing 10th or better in 13 of the tournaments they appeared in, the men's golf team looks for an improved season this coming year with the return of 7 of the 8 members from this past season's squad. MSU will be led by juniors-to-be Carlos Sainz, Jr., Noah Goldman and Matt Fast. Sainz, in his 13 tournament appearances, wound up among the top 10 performers in 3 tournaments and top 20 in 4 others.
Women's Golf - With 6 of 7 squad members returning this upcoming season, the ladies golf team should be improved from last season, a season that saw them finish among the top 10 teams in 2 of the 9 tournaments that they appeared in. They finished 10th out of 12 teams in the SEC Tournament Championship and 80th overall in the GolfWeek Collegiate national rankings. Senior-to-be Julia Huh, who finished either 1st or 2nd among MSU's golfers in 7 of the 9 tournaments, will lead the team into the upcoming season.
Women's Tennis - Although the women's tennis team had a tough season this past year, going 5-14 overall and 1-10 in SEC play, it was a very young squad that included 4 sophomores and 2 freshmen among the 7 players on the team. MSU will be led this season by junior-to-be Martina Banikova, a 2007 All-SEC selection who was ranked 46th nationally at the end of the season and who made it to the second round of the NCAA Singles Championship.
Men's Tennis - The men's team wound up the season ranked 57th in the nation after going 7-14 overall and 3-8 in the SEC. While the women's team was young, the men's team was even younger with 4 freshmen and 2 sophomores comprising 6 of the 8 roster spots this past season. There were no seniors on the squad. Two seniors-to-be will lead the team this coming season, Ivan Bjelica (1st team All-SEC and ranked 32nd nationally) and Philippe Frayssinoux (2nd team All-SEC and ranked 66th nationally).
Softball - The softball team finished the 2007 season in the NCAA Tucson Regional where they were eliminated in two games by top-seeded Arizona and Pacific. They concluded the season with a 35-27 overall record and 14-14 in SEC play.
Next year's team will see the return of 5 of this year's squad's top 6 hitters, including sophomore-to-be Chelsea Bramlett, a National Fastpitch Coaches Association First Team All-America as well as 1st team All-SEC selection senior-to-be Courtney Bures and 2nd team All-SEC selection senior-to-be Hayle Guess.
The one question mark - and it's a huge question mark - is who will replace the three pitchers MSU that graduated off this year's four-person staff.
Baseball - Picked last overall in the SEC in pre-season polls, the Diamond Dogs surprised the SEC and nation by winding up in the College World Series.
The Dogs, who started the season with several pitchers out for the season including Matt Lea, a pitcher who was expected to MSU's Friday night starter. But despite a pitching staff that was looking for its niche early on, the Bulldog hitting carried the team early thanks to the continued improvement of veterans Edward Easley (the 2007 Johnny Bench Award winner), Mitch Moreland, Jeffrey Rea, Joseph McCaskill and Jeff Flagg and the emergence of four freshmen, redshirt freshmen Brandon Turner and Russ Sneed and true freshmen Connor Powers and Jet Butler.
Then, when the hitting started dropping off late in the season, veterans Justin Pigott and Chad Crosswhite took over on the mound and gave MSU great starting pitching performances late. And the bullpen, led by a nucleus of veterans and youngsters that included John Lalor, Mitch Moreland, Aaron Weatherford, Ricky Bowen and Greg Houston, played shut-down baseball when it counted during the second half of the season. The group helped lead the team to a 5-0 record in NCAA regional and super regional play against such national powers as Florida State and Clemson.
And with almost all of the pitching returning and the return of a healthy Matt Lea to next year's staff, the pitching has a chance to be outstanding next season. And a freshman to watch is Forrest Moore. MSU's pitching coach, Russ McNickle, thinks he will be an immediate factor next season.
As for the hitting, the loss of Easley and Rea will have an effect, but the continued improvement of the youngsters should be able to offset some or all of it.
There are a couple of areas of concern, however. The first one is the loss of Easley, who started every game at catcher last season. As of now, it looks like his starting position will be between sophomore-to-be Ryan Duffy and true freshman Cody Freeman, a power-hitting catcher from West Lauderdale HS. The second concern is the possible loss of Moreland who was drafted in the 17th round of the Major League Draft. As of now, he hasn't signed a contract, but he has until August 15th to make that decision. If he comes back, then MSU's chance for a return to the College World Series will improve greatly.
Men's Track and Field - The men's track team, for the 6th time in the last 7 years, finished among the top 30 teams in the NCAA Championship, finishing 28th this past spring. Five members of the squad, four of whom were seniors, were chosen All-Americans. While some talented seniors will be leaving, there are some talented performers returning. And an outstanding recruiting class has been signed.
Returning athletes include Golden Coachman, an All-American performer this past season, and sprinters John Bailey, Delandus O'Neal, Chris Woods and Kyle Roberts. It's possible that Coachman, who will be competing for a spot on the Olympic team next year, may redshirt next season while he tries to make the Olympic team.
As for newcomers from this year's recruiting class who will make an immediate impact next season, Gerron Herring (a JUCO All-American sprinter), Emmanuel Mayers (the nation's top high school 400 hurdle athlete), Clyde Young (the nation's top high school indoor long jumper), and Justin Christian ( one of the top five 55-meter and 60-meter sprinters in the nation) all fit that criteria.
Women's Track and Field - On the women's side, junior-to-be Marrissa Harris and sophomore-to-be Wendy Copeland create optimism for next season after both had NCAA Regional qualifying marks this past season.
Cross Country - The men's and women's cross country teams quietly went about their business and did well enough to advance to the NCAA South Regional this past spring. In fact, both wound up 8th in their respective regionals. The men were 8th in a regional that had 25 teams in it, while the women were 8th of 23. And both did really well in the SEC Championship with the men ending up in 6th place and the women 5th.
While both teams lost their top performers from this past season to graduation (the men lose Travis McKay and the women Jen McPherson), both have some talented youngsters coming back and the men have a couple of youngsters from their recruiting class that should have an immediate impact.
On the men's side, sophomore-to-be Ashenafi Arega returns and on the women's side, juniors-to-be Michelle Corrigan and Annie Falor return. And recruiting-wise - on the men's side - look for Ben Blankenship to make a huge impact next season. Mississippi State men's cross country head coach Steve Dudley said that Ben "is arguably the best high school distance runner that MSU has ever signed." And Mississippian Matthew Cameron of Madison-Ridgeland Academy, another member of this past season's recruiting class, will be another youngster who should have a major impact his freshman season.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.