It may be a decisive year for Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom. It's his fourth season as the the Bulldog's head coach and his won-loss record stands at 9-25. In 2006 the Bulldogs finished in last place in the Southeastern Conference. Some progress has to be shown this season or Croom may have a problem.
Last year, State won just one SEC game, finishing last in the twelve-member conference in rushing offense and 11th in total offense, while the defense had the conference's worst turnover statistics, losing 25 and gaining 20 for a minus-5 in turnovers.
The good news for Croom, is that the Bulldogs will welcome back nine players to the offensive side of the ball.
The defensive unit will have a tougher time since only five starters return from last season.
On the offensive side of the ball, State returns starters at four of the five offensive line positions, including guards Anthony Strauder and J.D. Hamilton, center Royce Blackledge, and right tackle Craig Jenkins.
The starting left tackle will likely be junior Mike Brown, who started five games at the end of the 2006 season after missing the first half of the year.
One of the area's Croom has been enthusiastic about in preseason has been the depth available for the offensive line.
In the backfield soph halfback Anthony Dixon, last season's leading rusher with 668 yards and nine touchdowns on 169 carries as a freshman, returns. Dixon is the backbone of the Bulldog offense.
Junior Michael Henig, who was the starting quarterback at the beginning of last season before breaking his collarbone, returns as the Bulldogs'offensive leader at quarterback this fall, but he's injury prone and the security of his tenure as the starter is tenuous.
In the seven games in which he played last season, Henig threw for 1,201 yard and seven touchdowns, including a 384-yard performance against Kentucky. He also threw nine interceptions for the season.
Henig's backup is true freshman Wesley Carroll.
Reports indicate that the Bulldog receiving corps has been inconsistent in preseason workouts.
The Bulldog receivers are led by senior Tony Burks in 2007. Burks led the 'Dogs in 2006 with 35 catches and five touchdowns last year, totalling 850-yards and averaging 24.3 yards per catch. Burks is a major weapon on this team.
Also looking to contribute in the receiving game are sophomore Brandon McCrae and junior Jamayel Smith. Smith was third on the team with 335 receiving yards a year ago.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs will have to replace three of four starting linemen from last season, with end Titus Brown being the only returnee to the front four. Brown led team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last season.
Joining Brown on the defensive front this season will be senior Avery Hannibal at the other end, while juniors Cortez McCraney and Jessie Bowman, a JUCO transfer, and sophomores Kyle Love and Quinton Wesley will compete for playing time at the tackles. The tackles have excellent size.
Hannibal saw action in 11 games last season and tallied eight tackles, but the remainder of the d'linemen lack experience, with Bowman's work in junior college the only real time any has seen apart from spells of duty on special teams.
The Bulldogs have rather more experience at linebacker, returning senior Gabe O'Neal and junior Jamar Chaney from last year's linebacker corps. Chaney was the 'Dogs third-leading tackler with 66 last year, while O'Neal added 40 tackles. Juniors Anthony Johnson and Dominc Douglas are battling for the third starting job.
Half of last year's Bulldog secondary will be back in action in 2007, as State welcomes the return of strong safety Keith Fitzhugh and Derek Pegues, though Fitzhugh has lost the starting strong safety job to DeMon Glanton. Pegues moves from the corner to free safety.
Pegues' four interceptions led the team last season.
The cornerbacks will both be new starters as sophomores Marcus Washington and Anthony Johnson, both of whom played in all 12 games as freshmen, take over.
Derek Pegues will handle both kickoff and punt return responsibilities once again this year, after averaging 14 yards and scoring one touchdown on punt returns, and averaging 23.7 yard on kickoff returns last season.
Pegues had kickoff returns of 51 and 61 yards against the Green Wave in 2006. Pegues also added 80 return yards on 5 punt returns.
Tulane defeated State last season in Starkville, 32-29. Given a change in coaching regimes and quarterbacks at Tulane, it'll be a difficult order to reprise with a win.