GAMECOCKS 2007: vs. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Pity the Bulldog faithful. Their program has won nine games in the last three seasons, even after the school administration tried to do the right thing by hiring the first black head coach in SEC history.
Pity Sylvester Croom? Maybe. No one can deny that for all the good Jackie Sherrill might have done in the past, his last few years left the program in shambles. Indeed, Sherril won one fewer game in his last three years, and lost two more, than Croom has in his first three seasons. But, at some point, Croom has to prove that he can be the coach to take Mississippi State to at least respectability.
What did I get myself into?
The schedule won't do him any favors this year. Two of the three SEC East teams the Bulldogs face in 2007 are fast risers Kentucky and South Carolina. The other is Tennessee. And they have to travel to Morgantown for a nonconference game with West Virginia. So even without having to go through the SEC West, four tough games present themselves.
So is the program optimistic? Judge for yourself.
From MSU's Web site. In reference to a scrimmage.
O-line. The Mississippi State front returns all three starters from last season, at least according to the depth chart, and the only underclassman listed is sophomore Johnny Carpenter. Some changes could unsettle things a bit, but Croom also could be using the depth chart as a motivator. (See below.) One hopes that the South Carolina line will have come together at least a bit at this point. ADVANTAGE: PUSH
Quarterbacks. The Gamecocks made their own luck, to some extent, in this category last year when they knocked Michael Henig out of the game. Whether the Bulldogs could have beaten them in any event is doubtful; without their starting QB, it was almost impossible. Henig also didn't have much luck when he finally worked his way back after sitting out September. He went 74-for-169 with 7 TDs and 9 INTs on the season. Whether Croom, who has to know the clock is ticking, will stay with Henig through another rough stretch is an open question. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Wide receivers. Last year's top wideout, Tony Burks, ended up third on the depth chart after a disappointing spring, though that might be a motivational tool on Croom's part. In 2006, Burks caught 35 passes for 850 yards and 5 TDs. No one else had more than 30 grabs. Transfer Brandon McRae, who led I-AA Morehead State with 28 catches for 361 yards in 2005, can pitch in this year. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Running backs. Anthony Dixon averaged 55.7 yards over 12 games last season, though he started only five. No one else on the squad ran for more than 250 yards in 2006. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Defensive line. Only Titus Brown returns to a unit that issued 22 sacks and 78 TFL last year. But Brown was responsible for 7.5 and 14.5 of those numbers, respectively. Avery Hannibal has limited playing time. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Linebackers. Gabe O'Neal (40 tackles, 3 TFL) and Jamar Chaney (66 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) return. Overall, a solid corps of linebackers, but not at the same level as the Gamecocks' squad. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Secondary. Derek Pegues led the team with four interceptions last year, returning two for TDs. De'Mon Glanton also had a couple of picks. Anthony Johnson and Marcus Washington saw the field only briefly in 2006. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
Adam Carlson returns as placekicker despite getting just two touchbacks in 31 attempts -- a number that will almost certainly not get better with the rule change. Blake McAdams averaged 38.2 yards a punt last year. Pegues averaged 86.4 yards in returns last year, including 14 yards a punt and 23.7 a kickoff. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
When Sylvester Croom makes the Bulldogs a factor in the conference, this will be worth more than a few words. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA
This may be the surest chance for an SEC win for South Carolina on the conference schedule. The Gamecocks struggled to a 15-0 win in Starkville last year in the first game of the season, but this time the game is in Columbia and is later in the season. WIN
THE REST OF THEIR SEASON
It looks like another long season for the Bulldogs. LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas also look like losses this year. Tulane, Gardner-Webb, UAB and Ole Miss could be wins, but even with all of those in the W column, it will be a 4-8 campaign. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, 3-9 or 2-10 seems more likely.