SEC: Jamar Chaney
The defensive backs were the last to run the 40-yard dash, and a lot of eyes were on Tennessee safety Eric Berry.
Unofficially, his two 40-yard dash times were 4.46 and 4.40. Earlier, the 5-11, 211-pound Berry did 19 reps on the bench-press, so he certainly didn’t do anything to hurt himself and figures to be a top 10 pick.
Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas tweaked his hamstring running the 40 and didn’t go a second time. He ran a 4.52 unofficially on the first one.
Florida cornerback Joe Haden turned in a disappointing 4.57 in the 40. Again, these are unofficial times, and we’ll try to get you the official times once they’re posted later Tuesday.
Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis helped himself with a 4.45 in the 40 and also weighed in at more than 200 pounds. The NFL loves big corners who can cover.
LSU safety Chad Jones ran a 4.54, but only did nine reps on the bench-press.
Georgia safety Reshad Jones was second among the safeties with 24 reps.
Mississippi State’s Jamar Chaney posted the fastest 40-yard dash time among linebackers, a 4.54. He also did 26 reps on the bench-press and recorded a 39-inch vertical jump. Chaney solidified himself as a solid mid-round pick, possibly as high as the third or fourth round.
Todd McShay of ESPN’s Scouts Inc. also felt like South Carolina outside linebacker Eric Norwood helped himself by running a 4.71 40-yard dash. At 245 pounds, Norwood also showed good lateral movement, quick feet and demonstrated all the qualities that make him an explosive pass-rusher.
A pair of former SEC linebackers that didn’t impress McShay were Kentucky’s Micah Johnson and Florida’s Brandon Spikes. Johnson (258 pounds) ran a 4.99 and didn’t change directions very well. Spikes didn’t run the 40, but looked stiff in drills.
Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap turned in a fast 40 time (4.71), but according to scouts McShay talked with, Dunlap didn’t come across well in interviews and was characterized as lazy.
Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams continues to look like a first-round pick. Weighing 326 pounds, he ran a 5.17 40-yard dash and did 26 reps on the bench. He also moved fluidly during drills.
McShay thinks Alabama nose guard Terrence Cody will probably be a second-rounder. Cody shed some pounds and was down to 354, but ran a 5.68 40, the slowest among the defensive linemen.
Mississippi State linebacker Jamar Chaney had a game-high eight tackles in the game and also recovered a fumble on his way to being name the South team's Defensive Player of the Game.
Alabama tight end Colin Peek caught a 19-yard touchdown pass for the South, while Alabama kicker Leigh Kiffin made both of his field goal attemts from 43 and 33 yards.
Florida receiver Riley Cooper caught two passes for 37 yards and helped his stock all week with his route-running and ability to catch the ball in traffic. Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster didn't have a big game and lost a fumble, but he was one of the most explosive players during the practices and demonstrated time and time again how dangerous he is in space.
Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams also had a big week and walked away with a "B+" grade from Todd McShay of ESPN's Scouts Inc. McShay said Williams clearly separated himself from Alabama's Terrence Cody as the best two-gap defensive tackle in this year's draft.
McShay wrote: "Williams had such a strong overall week that he is solidly in the late-first round area. He is the prototypical two-gap player and will be capable of playing in the NFL in either a 4-3 system in which he protects the linebackers or in a 3-4 scheme in which he lines up at nose tackle."
Todd McVay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl already had serious doubts as to whether Scott could play tackle in the NFL, but he didn't show the power to play inside during Thursday's practices. Scott's balance and footwork were also questionable.
As for Chaney, he's performed well at the point of attack, but mental errors have been his undoing. So much so that Chaney may slip into the middle or late rounds.
Other SEC players on the East roster include Ole Miss kicker Joshua Shene, Mississippi State linebacker Jamar Chaney, LSU tight end Richard Dickson, LSU defensive end Rahim Alem, Alabama safety Justin Woodall, Arkansas offensive lineman Mitch Petrus, Florida linebacker Ryan Stamper, South Carolina safety Darian Stewart and Tennessee offensive tackle Chris Scott.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Did you pick up on some of Dan Mullen’s comments in the aftermath of Mississippi State’s 49-24 loss at Auburn?
It doesn’t sound like he’s real thrilled with some the adjustments made, or more precisely, the fact that there weren’t many adjustments made on defense by the Bulldogs.
“We need to have some more adjustments,” Mullen told reporters during a Sunday teleconference. “We did a poor job with our staff in adjusting within the course of the game. That resulted in some really big plays for them.”
Mullen also indicated that the Bulldogs would simplify things defensively this week against Vanderbilt, which also runs an up-tempo, no-huddle attack.
Defense wasn’t supposed to be the Bulldogs’ problem this season. The linebacker corps is experienced and talented, and we heard all sorts of good things during the spring and preseason about junior college newcomer Pernell McPhee at tackle.
The secondary clearly had some question marks, but nobody saw this Mississippi State defense giving up 390 yards rushing to Auburn.
As senior linebacker Jamar Chaney said, that’s unacceptable.
This was the toughest duty yet. Ranking the linebackers in this league is impossible, which tells you a little bit about the depth at that position in the SEC:
1. Alabama: The one-two punch of Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower is as good as there is anywhere in the country. Watch some of the younger guys take off at linebacker this season, too, like Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris. The Crimson Tide have depth, talent and smarts to go around at linebacker.
2. Florida: Brandon Spikes is one of the best middle linebackers in the country and a terrific tone-setter for this defense. The guys flanking him aren't too shabby, either. Brandon Hicks, Ryan Stamper and Dustin Doe are all big-time players in their own right. Remember the name Jelani Jenkins, too. He's only a freshman.
3. Georgia: All three starters from a year ago return, including junior Rennie Curran, the league's top returning tackler. Curran was one of four SEC defenders to have at least 100 tackles last season. The Bulldogs have a bunch of guys at linebacker who can play. Now, let's see if they tackle better than they did a year ago.
4. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are legit. Senior Brent Trice didn't even start last season, but has been so disruptive that it's going to be hard to keep him off the field. Senior Patrick Benoist was a second-team All-SEC selection a year ago, and Chris Marve was one of the best freshman linebackers in the country.
5. Ole Miss: Starting middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell returns along with starting strong side linebacker Allen Walker. Both players have extensive SEC experience and the kind of speed this league demands. The guy to watch is Patrick Trahan, who's a prime candidate for Breakout Player of the Year honors.
6. South Carolina: Ellis Johnson, who oversees the Gamecocks' defense, wishes he had the kind of depth everywhere else he does at linebacker. Eric Norwood, the Gamecocks' senior outside linebacker, is the SEC's career active leader in sacks, and Rodney Paulk returns in the middle after missing most of last season.
7. Mississippi State: The depth might be a little iffy, but it's hard to beat the Bulldogs' top three linebackers, all of whom are 240-plus pounds. Jamar Chaney is back in the middle after breaking his leg in the opener last season. K.J. Wright is another All-SEC caliber player, and junior college newcomer Chris White is the third starter.
8. LSU: The Tigers return both starting outside linebackers from a year ago, Perry Riley and Kelvin Sheppard. First-year coordinator John Chavis has also moved Harry Coleman from safety to outside linebacker. Stepping into the middle is senior Jacob Cutrera, who's been a spot starter for most of his career.
9. Auburn: If the Tigers stay healthy, they probably deserve to move up a little bit. But they're razor thin at linebacker and can't afford for anybody to go down. Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens are back after starting most of last season, and junior college newcomer Eltoro Freeman has fit nicely into this defense.
10. Kentucky: Senior Micah Johnson is one of the most imposing middle linebackers in the league and a tackling machine. He just doesn't have much around him in the way of experience. Senior Sam Maxwell steps in as a full-time starter on the outside, and sophomore Danny Trevathan is the Wildcats' fastest linebacker.
11. Tennessee: Senior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy is the anchor of the Vols' unit and has a ton of experience and talent, but the Vols will play a former walk-on, Nick Reveiz, at middle linebacker and don't have anybody else on the roster who's played a meaningful SEC snap.
12. Arkansas: The entire Arkansas defense took a beating last season, not just the linebackers. Wendel Davis, Jerry Franklin and Freddy Burton are all back after starting in four of the last six games a year ago. They get a chance to prove that they're a lot better than the numbers from 2008 would suggest.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
We'll wrap up our preview of the SEC with a few preseason awards and predictions:
1. Offensive Player of the Year: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. If you had one pick of any current player in the SEC, Tebow would be the guy. He's a force throwing the ball. He's a force running the ball and he's the quintessential leader.
2. Defensive Player of the Year: Tennessee safety Eric Berry. The Vols are promoting Berry for the Heisman Trophy, and why not? He's intercepted 12 passes his first two seasons and hits like a linebacker. Just ask Knowshon Moreno.
3. Newcomer of the Year: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. He has one of the strongest arms in college football, talented playmakers around him and a firm grasp of Bobby Petrino's system. It all adds up to a big debut season at Arkansas.
4. Freshman of the Year: South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Steve Spurrier has already said Gilmore is one of the best freshmen he's ever signed. He's going to start at cornerback for the Gamecocks and will also get a few snaps at quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
5. Comeback Player of the Year: Mississippi State linebacker Jamar Chaney. A second-team All-SEC selection two years ago, Chaney broke his left fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle in the season opener last year. He's back in the middle this season, though, and in the best shape of his career. Look for him to anchor what should be a terrific Mississippi State linebacker corps.
6. Breakout Player of the Year: Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower. His transformation from one of the best freshmen in the league to one of the best players in the league will be on full display this season. The Crimson Tide will use him in different roles, and he's much more in tune with the complexities of the defense. His best is yet to come.
7. Most exciting player: Ole Miss running back/receiver Dexter McCluster. Percy Harvin wasn't the only member of the 600/600 club last season. A threat in the running game, passing game and maybe even the return game, the speedy McCluster rushed for 655 yards and also had 625 yards receiving in 2008. He's one of those guys you expect to score every time he gets in the open field.
8. Coach of the Year: Arkansas' Bobby Petrino. With road games at Alabama, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, if Petrino can figure out a way to win seven or eight games this season, then he can go ahead and clear out a spot on his mantle for the trophy. The Hogs will be much improved in Petrino's second season.
9. Game of the Year: Florida at LSU, Oct. 10 in Baton Rouge. This is actually one of two huge games in the league the second weekend in October. Alabama also travels to Ole Miss. But if you look down Florida's schedule, the trip to Tiger Stadium looms as the Gators' toughest challenge. And if LSU can knock off Florida, you've got to like the Tigers' chances in the West race.
10. Team that will surprise: Georgia. The pick here is based largely on the Bulldogs being an afterthought in the East race, only a year removed from being everybody's preseason No. 1. Georgia isn't good enough to unseat Florida in the East, but the Bulldogs behind a strong offensive line and a defense out to avenge last season's poor showing will be a lot better than people think.
11. Team that will disappoint: Alabama. Breaking in a new quarterback the same year you're revamping your offensive line is never a good mix. The Crimson Tide won't fall off completely. Their defense will be too good. But remember that Nick Saban has never won 10 or more games in back-to-back seasons in his head coaching career.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
|AP Photo/Jim Lytle|
|Linebacker Jamar Chaney, left, is thrilled to be with the Bulldogs for another season.|
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Jamar Chaney is a big believer that everything happens for a reason.
He probably wouldn't have chosen to still be at Mississippi State this time a year ago, but he is.
And as he says with conviction, "I wouldn't change it for nothing."
Chaney, the Bulldogs' fifth-year senior middle linebacker, suffered a nasty injury in the opener a year ago. He tore ligaments in his ankle and broke his left fibula, which turned out to be a terrible omen for the Bulldogs.
He was lost for the season, and Mississippi State's season quickly went down the tubes.
Undecided about whether to enter his name in the NFL draft or apply for a medical redshirt and return to Mississippi State, Chaney admits that he went back and forth.
It didn't take him long once first-year coach Dan Mullen and the rest of his staff settled in to realize that he'd made the right choice.
"I see it as a blessing in disguise," said Chaney, a second-team All-SEC selection in 2007. "At first, I was down and wondering about everything, wondering if this was the right thing. But to come back and go through a whole offseason and now a season with Coach Mullen and his staff has been exactly what I needed.
"Coach (Matt) Balis (the Bulldogs' strength coach) has me in the best shape of my life, and Coach (Carl) Torbush is the best linebacker coach I've had and the best defensive coordinator I've had. I'm happy where I'm at. I'm happy with the career I've had, and I'm happy with how it's going to end."
Chaney is part of a Mississippi State linebacker unit that rivals any in the league. All three of the Bulldogs' starters are at least 240 pounds, and they all can run. The 6-1, 245-pound Chaney has been timed at just under 4.5 seconds.
Junior K.J. Wright will play one of the two outside spots. The 6-4 Wright is pushing 250 pounds, while junior college newcomer Chris White (6-3, 245) will play the other outside spot.
"It's going to be the best linebacker corps we've had in years here at Mississippi State," Chaney said. "We have a lot of guys who can really get to the ball, and it's not just at linebacker."
He said that junior college newcomer Pernell McPhee continues to be dominant at defensive tackle after bursting onto the scene in the spring.
"You're not going to be able to block him one-on-one," Chaney said. "If you try, you're going to suffer the consequences."
The Bulldogs might be able to slide the 275-pound McPhee outside to end some, too, especially if true freshmen Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox keep progressing the way they are.
"They don't play like freshmen. They're going to play this year," Chaney said.
Getting Chaney back for another season was a huge coup for Mullen, and it goes much deeper than just Chaney's ability to blow up opposing ball-carriers.
"It's the leadership he brings, and not only the leadership he brings on the field, but that demeanor he brings off the field," Mullen said. "He comes in as an older guy who everybody looks up to and is experienced, and he 100 percent buys into the new coach's program.
"As soon as Jamar Chaney buys in, the younger kids look at each other and say, 'If he buys in, then we need to buy in.' That's what makes him irreplaceable for our team."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Biggest reason for hope: Strength up the middle on defense
Mississippi State needed an enforcer on defense and got one in the form of junior college newcomer Pernell McPhee, who was dominant this past spring from his tackle position. He's athletic enough to play end, but was such a force inside that the Bulldogs will keep him there. There were times on the practice field that he wrecked everything the offense was trying to do. He has a chance to be one of those new faces in the league that everybody in the country knows by the end of the season. He also has a menacing cast of linebackers behind him, led by Jamar Chaney in the middle. Chaney is back for his senior season after breaking his ankle in the opener a year ago. He's flanked by K.J. Wright and Chris White, another impressive junior college newcomer. All three linebackers weigh 240-plus pounds and are fierce tacklers. It will be no picnic trying to run the ball on the Bulldogs this season.
Biggest reason for concern: Too much new on offense
Much of the spring was devoted to installing Dan Mullen's spread offense, and the truth is that it won't be fully installed until the Bulldogs can add some more firepower at receiver. A few of the freshmen enrollees will help this season, but you know what they say about first-year players in the SEC. Quarterback Tyson Lee isn't entirely new, but this will be his first season running this offense. It will also be the first time that he's entered a season as the starter, and that's assuming there are no surprises in preseason practice and somebody beats him out. Even though the new staff has had the spring and will also have the preseason to get a better feel for the personnel on offense, it's difficult to be sure who can do what until you see them in the games. All in all, the Bulldogs figure to be pretty limited in what they will be able to do on offense this first season under Mullen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
One of the first calls Dan Mullen made before interviewing for the Mississippi State head coaching job back in December was to Matt Balis.
Well, when you're in the business of rebuilding a college football program, the foundation of that program begins and ends with the strength coach.
So Mullen went out and snatched who he felt was the best strength coach in the country -- Balis.
Their relationship goes back to their days on the Utah staff under Urban Meyer, and they both followed Meyer to Florida. Balis had been the head strength coach at Virginia the last two years before reuniting with Mullen at Mississippi State.
Thanks to a grueling offseason program, the Bulldogs are already well-versed in the "Balis Way."
To this point, Balis has been around the players as much as anybody on the first-year Mississippi State staff, and in many ways, has been the eyes and ears for Mullen.
"There's a certain tempo we're trying to establish here at Mississippi State, and that's a high-intensity, disciplined atmosphere with a mental toughness about us," Balis said. "We believe in relentless effort and reaching your potential every day."
Balis likes what he's seen along those lines so far, and he's also impressed with the way the leadership has emerged.
"If you want to have a chance, your best players have to be your hardest working players," Balis said. "Our top guys also have to be the top guys in the weight room and the top guys in our conditioning program. I think we got that point across."
Senior middle linebacker Jamar Chaney doesn't need any translation. Balis said Chaney's leadership and his work in the strength and conditioning program these last five months have been invaluable.
Returning from a fractured leg suffered in the season opener a year ago, the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Chaney looks as good as he ever has. And more importantly, his work ethic has been infectious.
"Jamar Chaney understands the intensity that you have to play with at this level, and the kids really like and respect him," Balis said. "He's one of those guys who leads by example in everything he does."
He's also one of those "freakish" guys in the weight room who's put up eye-popping numbers.
Chaney squats 600 pounds, bench-presses 365 pounds, and weighing in at 245 pounds, was recently clocked at 4.55 in the 40-yard dash, according to Balis.
"He's quick as a cat and so explosive," Balis said. "In terms of freakiness, he's right up there."
Probably the strongest player on the team is junior center J.C. Brignone, who squats 600 pounds and bench-presses 400 pounds. The guy who did the most repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench-press was senior defensive tackle Kyle Love with 27.
Balis said one of the players who's made the most strides since he got him back in January is junior college newcomer Pernell McPhee. The 6-4, 275-pound junior is penciled in as the starter at right defensive tackle coming out of the spring and showed flashes of dominance.
"He came in and hadn't had much experience at this level, but his upside his ridiculous. He can be really special," Balis said of the 275-pound McPhee, who ran a sub-4.9 40-yard dash.
Senior running back Anthony Dixon, who shed 20 pounds to get down to 235, turned in a sub-4.6 40-yard dash and also squatted close to 500 pounds.
"It's a tribute to what he did this offseason," Balis said. "He dropped a ton of body fat. He'll have more energy and be able to run harder not carrying as much body fat. He's trained hard and worked hard at becoming more disciplined with his eating habits."
Balis said senior cornerback Marcus Washington turned in one of the fastest 40 times on the team with a 4.4. But Washington, who's now in the 195-pound range, also made significant strength gains and is now squatting close to 500 pounds.
The Bulldogs should be able to run with most teams in the SEC next season, Balis said. But that doesn't mean they're where they need to be.
"I think we could hold our own," Balis said. "We've got some speed, but you always need more. We're in the fastest league in America."
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Dan Mullen's arrival at Mississippi State has done more than just pump renewed energy into the football program.
The Bulldogs also just completed one of their best semesters ever in the classroom. They posted their third-highest grade point average (2.62) since the school started keeping track of the scores.
Former coach Sylvester Croom also deserves credit for getting things pointed in the right direction academically. Mississippi State recently posted a 933 Academic Progress Report (APR) rate, its highest score since the NCAA initiated the APR program five years ago. According to Mississippi State, the Bulldogs are one of five SEC teams to improve its APR each of those five years.
What's really impressive about this last semester is that several of Mississippi State's highest profile players had some of the best GPAs. Quarterback Tyson Lee had a 3.44. Running back Anthony Dixon and offensive tackle Derek Sherrod each had a 3.25, while linebacker Jamar Chaney had a 3.06.
In all, 22 players had better than a 3.0, and 43 players had a 2.5 or better.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The defense had its way with the offense for much of Mississippi State's scrimmage on Saturday, and coach Dan Mullen made it clear that the offense has a long way to go.
It was a rough outing for the offensive line, and the need for more playmakers is obvious. Running back Anthony Dixon is the one constant in this offense right now, but junior college newcomer Leon Berry made a couple of plays at receiver despite a bum shoulder.
Offensive line coach John Hevesy has his work cut out for him. The Bulldogs have a bunch of experience returning up front. They just need to be more consistent.
It looks like the defensive line may be one of Mississippi State's strengths next fall, and having Jamar Chaney back at linebacker makes everybody better on defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The unofficial kickoff to the Dan Mullen era at Mississippi State opens March 24 when the Bulldogs start spring practice.
Mullen gave his pre-spring State of the Cowbells address on Thursday, and here are a few highlights:
- Wade Bonner, one of the more versatile athletes on the team, has moved from running back to safety and will try his hand there this spring. Mullen said it's been a productive offseason for his safeties, including Zach Smith and Charles Mitchell. Mullen said moving Bonner was a case of having a lot of depth at running back and the need to get Bonner on the field somewhere. "He's just a great athlete for us," Mullen said. "Whether we use him offensively or defensively, we need to find a place for him to make sure he's out there on the field."
- Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning estimated last month that senior running back Anthony Dixon was down around 225 pounds. Mullen said Dixon is actually closer to 235 pounds, but has lost 20 pounds. Dixon reported in January weighing 255. "I want him to be as big and strong as he can be, being as fast as he can be ... whatever weight that is," Mullen said. "If he can handle 235, that's great. If he can bulk up and handle 245, that's great. If he can't, we'll have him drop down. There's not an exact weight I want him at."
- Despite some of the stereotypes associated with a spread offense, Mullen said Dixon can expect to touch the ball often in 2009. The Bulldogs want to run the ball, especially with them being so top-heavy at tight end and fullback. "We're going to be a big running team," Mullen said. "I think the misconception sometimes of the spread is that you throw every down. Our version of the spread offense is that we're going to be balanced. Really, all the spread offense is about is trying to spread the entire field and trying to find matchups, whether it be in the run game, the pass game, whether it be with three tight ends and one receiver or four receivers and no tight ends."
- Mullen joked that the biggest adjustment for him this spring would be keeping his cool. "I have high standards and expectations of what I want to see and how I expect things to be," Mullen said. "I think there's going to be a learning curve for the players, but I'll try to keep myself calm for the spring so I don't go too nuts." The Bulldogs' practices this spring will be open to the public.
- Cornerback Anthony Johnson, receiver Arceto Clark and defensive back Maurice Langston, a junior college newcomer, will remain suspended from the team "until further investigation," Mullen said.
- Among the players that will be out or limited this spring while recovering from injuries are receiver Brandon McRae, running back Robert Elliott and tight end Marcus Green. Receiver O'Neal Wilder, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will return to the practice field. "He'll be full go for what he can do," Mullen said.
- Mullen has been particularly impressed with the way the players have bought into strength coach Matt Balis' conditioning program. "He's the best strength coach in the country," Mullen said of Balis. "When the kids see him at first, they think he's a little nuts. But they do buy in because they see progress. I think that's what happened, the kids started seeing the development and seeing their bodies change, seeing them physically improve, that it became a lot easier for them to buy in." Mullen said it's not uncommon for Balis to be in the office at 2 a.m. getting ready for an early-morning workout.
- Similar to the Champions program at Florida, Mullen has implemented his own Champions Club at Mississippi State. The idea is to reward players who are "champions" on and off the field, in the weight room, in the classroom and in the community. Right now, (16 players) have made the cut. Among them: Jamar Chaney, Tyson Lee, Derek Sherrod, Marcus Washington, Mitchell and Bonner. "Those (16) have bought into what we are preaching," Mullen said. "What we need to do in this second quarter through spring ball is try to double that."
- The biggest void Mullen sees heading into the spring is a lack of playmakers at the receiver position, although the Bulldogs signed several receivers in this class that they're hopeful can be immediate contributors in the fall. Freshmen Chad Bumphis, Dennis Thames, Chris Smith and Brandon Heavens will all get a chance to show what they've got when they arrive this summer. Junior college signee Leon Berry is already on campus and will go through spring ball. "Hopefully, we'll find some guys in the spring that are playmakers," Mullen said.
The fall was a steep one, and Sylvester Croom landed hard.
A year removed from leading Mississippi State to a Liberty Bowl victory, getting a big raise and earning SEC Coach of the Year honors, Croom found himself out of a job.
On the heels of an embarrassing season-ending 45-0 loss to Ole Miss, Croom resigned after new Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne informed him that he was going in another direction.
It was a dismal season for the Bulldogs (4-8, 2-6 SEC) and one in which everything that could go wrong did. They lost left offensive tackle Michael Brown before the season started when he was dismissed because of a handgun incident on campus.
Star safety Derek Pegues was suspended for the first game for violating the class attendance policy, and the Bulldogs were upset by Louisiana Tech.
It was a sign of things to come, and in a trend that plagued Croom's five-year tenure in Starkville, Mississippi State struggled to find any offense. The Bulldogs finished 113th nationally in total offense and 115th in scoring offense. They were 100th or worse in total offense in all five of Croom's seasons as coach.
Wesley Carroll started the season at quarterback, but soon gave way to Tyson Lee. The Bulldogs finished with an SEC-low 23 touchdowns, and even the defense dropped off this season to 11th in the SEC. They lost All-SEC middle linebacker Jamar Chaney in the first game to a broken leg.
Offensive MVP: About the only thing Mississippi State could count on offensively this season was junior running back Anthony Dixon. The 240-pound battering ram led the Bulldogs in rushing with 869 yards and scored nine touchdowns. He also had 20 receptions.
Defensive MVP: Senior Dominic Douglas, moving over to middle linebacker in place of the injured Chaney, more than answered the call. Douglas led the SEC with 116 total tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. He also had an interception and forced a fumble.
Turning point: The season-opening 22-14 loss to Louisiana Tech set the tone for the entire season. The Bulldogs turned the ball over five times, including three interceptions by Carroll, and blew a 14-3 lead. They never fully recovered, and things only went downhill from there.
What's next: Former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was introduced on Dec. 18 as Mississippi State's new head coach. Byrne wanted an offensive guy and liked Mullen's pedigree. Mullen wants to run the same spread offense he ran at Florida, but recruiting to that system will be paramount if he's going to be successful in one of the SEC's toughest jobs.