Coach: Jackie Sherrill
69-56-2, 11 years
2001 Record: 3-8
at Florida LOST 0-52
at Auburn LOST 14-16
at Alabama LOST 17-24
at Arkansas LOST 21-24

2001 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

Ray Ray Bivines is the key offensively, he could develop into an impact player as his speed and cutting ability take over defenses. - (MSU Sports Information photo)
2002 Outlook

The Mississippi State University Bulldogs have their work cut out for them this season. After starting the year off 1-5 last year (3-8 finish), and with an even tougher first half of 2002, Jackie Sheryll's boys need at least a .500 start in their first 6 games to even hope for post-season play. But with returning junior QB Kevin Fant and a solid set of cornerbacks, the foundation is there for success. The team itself has a few statistical realities from last year which need addressing. The offense held the ball on average for 15:44 minutes of the first 30 each game, yet were outscored 156-69 during the same period. MSU led only one game at the half in all 2001. This is not a proven comeback team, so this problem is glaring. Obviously, MSU's 1-5 start and 0-4-road record last year cost them any and all postseason possibilities. With 6 wins or just a .500 record being enough to get some bowl bids, their away games will tell tale of any 2002 Bulldog achievement. This years schedule has the Bulldogs first 7 games contain all their non-conference match-ups. Oregon starts them off with a nationally televised showdown sure to measure much of MSU's potential for the development spoken of here. Maybe Mississippi State's biggest asset is their own unpredictability over the years. Before last year's meek performance, the Bulldogs had success that seemed to be snowballing (1998 SEC west champs, both 10-2 and bowl winners in 1999 and 2000). The 2002 campaign will either right a ship, which momentarily listed or confirm a trend, which may reach into next season if it is not checked.

Projected 2002 record: 5-7

QB - 3.5 DL - 3
RB - 3 LB - 3.5
WR - 4 DB - 3.5
OL - 3 ..

Passing: Kevin Fant, 94-170-9, 1352 Yards, 8 TD's

Rushing: Dontae Walker, 136 att., 548 yds., 5TD's

Receiving: Justin Jenkins, 42 rec., 661 yds., 8 TD's

Scoring: Justin Jenkins, 8 TD, 50 points

Punting: Jared Cook, 60 punts, 40.7 avg.

Kicking: John Michael Marlin, 8-16 FG, 20-23 PAT, 44 pts.

Tackles: Mario Haggan, 95 tot., 62 solo

Sacks: Mario Haggan, 4 sacks

Interceptions: Korey Banks, 4 for 29 yards

Kickoff returns: Dontae Walker, 9 ret., 20.4 avg.

Punt returns: Ray Ray Bivines, 12 ret., 10.4 avg.


OFFENSE: Harold Lindsey-WR, Derrick Thompson-OT, Courtney Lee-OG, Kenric Fairchild-OT, Clarence Parker-WR, Wayne Madkin-QB, Dicenzo Miller-TB
DEFENSE: Conner Stephens-DE, Dorsett Davis-DT, Dwayne Robertson-DE, Pig Prather-LDS, Shawn Byrdsong-RDS

written by: Dave Hershorin

As far as individual talent and athletics go, MSU is laden with talent and speed on offense. But starting FB Justin Griffin and emerging split end Ray Ray Bivines will prove to be pivotal. Griffin had neck surgery after missing the last part of 2001. His spring has shown marked physical improvement, but when the season starts, his lead blocking and good hands out of the backfield will have to be up to speed for the running game to develop at all. Griffin will fill the running void created by RB Dicenzo Miller's departure. Although a senior with good size and speed, TB Dontae Walker has been too inconsistent, averaging a scant 60 yds/game over his career in Starkville, to be considered a game threat to opposing defensive coordinators. His emergence this year will be tied closely to Griffin's ability to open the field up as a triple threat- as a receiver, a quality ball carrier, and a lead bowling ball. QB Fant only need pick up where he left off after starting the Bulldog's last three games with solid play (he didn't lose the games MSU lost, and his individual play kept them in it often times). Fant is quicker than his predecessor, so look for off-season developments like Sheryll investing more offense in his QB's feet than last year (more roll-outs, a few option calls?).

But WR/SE/PR Ray Ray Bivines is the key offensively, for not only this year but next. He could develop into an impact player as his speed and cutting ability take over defenses. If he plays enough to merit double-coverage, he too will open up the entire offense to its potential. Without Bivines, wide receiver potency is less reliant on speed, more on size. This is a bad trend in the SEC- the past decade has shown both size and speed are needed as corners and safeties have both now, too. Fant will need to find Bivines early and often to establish his speed and make corners play off the line more. After that is proven, any zone coverages will be worried with his breakaway ability and will leave the bigger receivers/tight ends more open, to be used as safer possession outlets. This mix will rely on Bivines, of course. And Bivines even lines up periodically in the backfield, putting defenses even further onto their heels with each down. As you can see, he, Fant, and Griffin will be the keys to better offensive development overall.

The offensive line is full of underclassmen as back-ups, a situation which allows for quick learning yet skeptical results. That means the starters need to stay healthy so the learning curve comes more from poinient substitutions than panicky necessity. This is a quality unit, allowing two sacks per game and punctuating Fant's 155.0 pass efficiency rating over 2001's last 5 games. The offensive line's mobility and footwork will be most important so play-action development doesn't turn into bad Marx brothers outtakes. Otherwise, like last year, it could get ugly.

All of these elements will need to coincide, as a fine ballet of teamwork could put them above other more individually talented teams (like Florida, who can be so inconsistent in certain games, only to be saved by a few Sports Center 'Plays of the Week'-type plays each time to have nearly flawless years, seemingly). The offense needs to be consistent, not potent yet erratic, to help the Bulldogs even consider post-season play.


Returning Starters in Bold
QB Kevin Fant-Jr Kyle York-Fr
FB Justin Griffith-Sr Darnell Jones-So
TB Dontae Walker-Sr Fred Reid-So
WR Terrell Grindle-Sr Ray Ray Bivines-So
WR Justin Jenkins-Jr Antonio Hargro-So
TE Donald Lee-Sr Aaron Lumpkin-Jr
OT Donald Tucker-Jr Carl Hutchins-Sr
OG Brad Weathers-So Kyle Watson-Sr
C Blake Jones-Jr Chris McNeil-Fr
OG Michael Allen-Sr Will Rogers-So
OT David Stewart-So Avery House-Fr
K John Michael Marlin-Jr Brent Smith-Jr



written by: Dave Hershorin

The defense is looking to prove its two senior corners can change an offense's schemes. If they can keep reliable receivers from establishing themselves, Banks and Wright can keep the focus on the running game. LB Haggan is proven against the run, but conversely will need to keep his eyes open with regards to passing for the defense to gel. It is crucial with MSU's defensive ends (many are converted LBs) being used as possible cover backs. Without their shared ability to tell quickly how given plays are developing, the run-stopping could get ugly. It is obvious play-action and short, over-the-middle routes could exploit these factors further. See, the defense relies on the tried idea of having everyone but the down linemen and corners play varying positions and styles from play to play. This requires a lot of individual ability and teamwork at the same time. It sometimes takes a while for this subtle of an approach to work properly. The defense cannot be offset by early-game failures and must play good second halves, like last year, to be a driving force. Any unit makes mistakes; it is how they will respond to their own shortfalls which will shape any character this defense establishes.

Special teams could prove to contain MSU's biggest hole - placekicking. 50% of their FGs were missed last year by returning starter John Michael Marlin. The Bulldogs lost four games by three points or less, so you do the math. MSU needs to win special teams battles consistently to have any kind of trump card for beating powerhouses Tennessee, Auburn, Oregon and LSU. If they are better than any of these teams by more than 3 points, then this review is debased and an emerging MSU team may even win their SEC half.


Returning Starters in Bold
DE Jason Clark-Jr Nathan Jackson-Jr
DT Kahlil Nash-Sr Jadice Moore-So
NG Ronald Fields-So Michael Oyefesobi-Sr
DT Tommy Kelly-Jr Lennie Day-Jr
DE Robert Spivey-So Kamau Jackson-Jr
MLB Mario Haggan-Sr T.J. Mawhinney-Jr
LDS Milas Randle-Jr Rico Bennett-Fr
RDS Gabe Wallace-So Walter Burdett-Sr
LC Demetric Wright-Sr Slovakia Griffith-So
FS Josh Morgan-Sr Michael Gholar-Sr
RC Korey Banks-Sr Richard Ball-Sr
P Jared Cook-So Robert Wallis-Jr

The Bulldog defense centers around big Mario Haggan, a two-time All-American. - (MSU Sports Information photo)