|After all the cheerleader shots, I felt I should show a little appreciation for the pom squad before we finish up with Mississippi State. You're welcome.|
Travis from Hail Dear Ole State was kind enough to answer a few questions for us concerning the upcoming season:
Hail Dear Ole State - Ty Evans left the team after the spring. Walk-on Zach Harrington will be the emergency quarterback as the '07 signees will likely redshirt.
The backup spot to Anthony Dixon is a virtual logjam of 5 running backs. Signee Maurice Green is getting more buzz than Robert Elliot right now, so neither one may be redshirted. I expect to see 6 RB's carry the ball this year with Dixon getting the bulk of the workload.
Also, I think the defensive backfield will be better this season. Pegues is a sometimes-flashy player, but he wasn't very good matched up one-on-one. He's better roving the field. He and Keith Fitzhugh (also moved to safety) will be able to help out more in run support. Most of Sylvester Croom's defensive personnel moves have turned out to be correct so I'm not really concern with the change.
2. What is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of this team getting to a bowl?
Hail Dear Ole State - The schedule. That sounds like a bit of a joke, but Mississippi State's 2007 slate would be a grind for any team. Where does one find the six wins needed for a bowl? Four legitimate top 10 teams are sprinkled throughout the year (Tennessee, @ West Virginia, LSU and @ Auburn), not to mention four '06 bowl teams (@ South Carolina, Alabama, @ Kentucky and @ Arkansas). The remaining four games are certainly winnable (UAB, Tulane, Gardner-Webb (who?) and Ole Miss at home), but under the Croom regime there are no gimmees.
The formula for a bowl trip is simple: win all four of the winnable games, and steal two from the middle tier SEC teams. Alabama (no offense) and Arkansas are the most likely candidates. Simple, yes. Easy, no.
3. What worries you most about the offense this season?
Hail Dear Ole State - The fragile situation at quarterback must keep Croom awake at night. Last year his inability to keep the starting QB, Michael Henig, upright combined with Croom's inability to recruit a top-flight backup turned into a witch's brew of misery for State's offense. Croom's offensive philosophy, while running-based, will put a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make quick, accurate throws. Things didn't improve until Croom scraped a lot of the three step drops and went almost exclusively to the shotgun in passing downs. That allowed Henig to survey the field long enough to find the right target.
The O-line should be better this season and Henig has supposedly added 20 or so pounds to make him more durable. His backup, Josh Riddell put up big numbers in juco in California, but so did Brent SHAYFUH. Riddell came in this spring, so he's familiar with the offense, but you have to wonder how quickly he can come along considering it took starter Mike Henig three and half years to grasp the offense. After those two, State is in serious trouble.
The bottom line is the coaching staff and the offensive line have to help the quarterback out. If Henig goes down early, three wins may be unattainable.
4. And the defense?
Hail Dear Ole State - The defensive line. Period. Good running teams will have career games against MSU's defense early on. Croom correctly identified the problem and recruited a very good juco D-tackle named Jesse Bowman, who was able to participate this spring. We also picked up a decent DT transfer from the Univ. of Memphis last season. Those two are already penciled in as starters. Titus Brown is the most underrated DE in the league, but depth is a huge concern.
The linebacker and safety positions are solid, but depth at CB is troubling as well. There's been a lot of turnover at that position, so you have to wonder how settled it really is.
5. What is the general feeling among Bulldogs fans about the coming season (dread, hope, amusement, etc.), and what sort of expectations will this team have to meet for 2007 to be considered "successful?"
Hail Dear Ole State - Hope, dread AND amusement. The hardcore fans are split between those who have given up on Croom and the team and those who see the modest improvements late last year and expect to build upon them. The rest of the fan base is pretty fair-weathered and probably looks at the upcoming season with ambivalence.
Season ticket sales are down so much Croom sent out a letter to all Bulldog Club members asking them to buy season tickets. When the head coach has to implore the booster club to buy tickets, you know the rank-and-file fan is apathetic as well.
A successful season will be five or six wins. (I died a little bit inside typing that sentence.)
6. How hot is the seat Croom currently occupies? If he can't get State to a bowl (or at least bowl eligible without an invite) this year, is his time up in Starkville?
Hail Dear Ole State - For almost all of the fans, it's a put-up-or-shut up year for Sylvester Croom. However, a couple of things mitigate the situation in Croom's favor. First, he has three years left on his contract. Given the book cooking the athletic director had to do to pay Sherrill off when he "retired", I can only imagine how hard it will be to pay off Croom's buyout clause.
Second, the new university president, Robert Foglesong, is pushing athletic director Larry Templeton out next summer. A number of fans are more concerned with a lame duck AD hiring another coach than they are the coach himself. (The average Bulldog fan almost universally despises Templeton.)
The scenario that makes the most sense is to give Croom a fifth year (unless the team gets worse and goes 2-10, etc.), and allow the new athletic director to hire his own guy. Also, it shows the sports media and prospective coaches that Mississippi State is willing to give its coaches time.
7. What are your particular feeling on Coach Croom?
Hail Dear Ole State - I like him as a person. I think he has the right ideas about managing a college program, but his game day skills are suspect. He also has a candidness sports writers love, but often gets him into trouble with some of his comments. His arrogance and pride make him slow to change scheme-wise.
I think after the Bama coaching interview, Croom sat down and wrote down everything he thought he would need to do to be successful given another head coaching opportunity -- from his offensive schemes, to potential assistants, to how to run a practice. However, the game had changed since he left college football and he was left unprepared. Slowly he's coming up to speed, but it may be too late for the SEC.
8. The Bulldogs were within a TD or less of winning four (Ole Miss, UGA, Kentucky, and Tulane) of their nine losses last year. Of those four, which one hurt the most, and which one would you go back in time to rectify?
Hail Dear Ole State - I would love to go back and change the Tulane outcome. That game was a punch in the stomach for the fan base. All summer long we heard 2006 was the year we turned the corner. The team came out flat and got its head handed to them for three quarters. The game and Croom's tirade afterward were the tipping point for me as a Croom supporter.
Be sure to check with Hail State for any and all news on the Bulldogs, and be sure to check back with us on Thursday for a very cursory overview of the Ole Miss Rebels.