Kansas’ Mark Mangino, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, Arizona St.’s Dennis Erickson, or Oregon’s Mike Bellotti will likely take National Coach of the Year honors when the season comes to an end, but the announcement of the semifinalists for two of the major honors might have come a week too late for one name to be on the list.
While Alabama’s Nick Saban and Kentucky’s Rich Brooks are on the list, there’s a name not on the list that has picked up victories over both. Along with those victories, there’s an impressive road win at Auburn.
Along with those three wins over top-25 caliber teams, this coach has led his team to their most conference and overall wins in seven years, and has them on the verge of their first bowl appearance in that amount of time.
Who’s the mystery coach? None other than Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom.
Croom was a favorite for the chopping block this season, and it was thought that the Bulldogs would flounder once again, as has been in the previous six seasons, where MSU’s best record at any time is 3-8.
Getting shut out 45-0 by LSU on national TV to start the season didn’t do anything to help those expectations, but it ignited the Bulldogs.
Two weeks later, they went to Auburn and walked out of Jordan-Hare 19-14 winners, and started 3-1.
But, little was still expected, as MSU hadn’t yet reached the meat of their schedule, and after three losses in four games to South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, the Bulldogs stood at 4-4.
But, they overcame those losses, and went into Lexington to take on #14 Kentucky. They forced Andre Woodson into three picks, and dominated the game from start to finish in a 31-14 victory.
And on Saturday, MSU wrapped up bowl eligibility with a 17-12 victory over Alabama, which came in front of a school-record crowd of over 56,000.
A win in the final two games (at Arkansas, vs. Ole Miss) would wrap up a 7-5 overall record and a 4-4 SEC mark, and likely send the Bulldogs bowling. If MSU could win those two games, they would likely find themselves back in the top 25 for the first time since the preseason polls entering the 2001 season, when the downhill spiral began
It’s taken time and patience, but Croom has turned the program around his way, the (sometimes brutally) honest way, and has turned a program that has been a laughingstock in the last several years into a winner once again. The resurgence has also brought life back into a fanbase that, to say the least, was disheartened by the last several seasons, which not only included a bunch of ugly losses, but NCAA sanctions and probation.
While MSU hasn’t exactly won pretty in some of their victories, they’ve gone from losing ugly to winning ugly. With a true freshman starting at QB, and throwing only one interception in 158 passes, after getting tossed into the fire against some of the top teams in the country.
The defense has had its struggles in a few of the losses, and hasn’t gotten help from the offense in a couple of games, but have created a lot of problems for opponents and are tied for the NCAA lead in interception returns for touchdowns, with five, including a pivotal one just before halftime to swing the momentum in the Alabama game.
And while Les Miles, Philip Fulmer, or Mark Richt may win SEC Coach of the Year for leading their teams to something that they were expected to do, if I had a vote it would be for Croom, who apparently should be packing his bags (sorry ‘experts’) for the land of unemployment, but instead, will be packing his bags for an unexpected trip to the postseason. And if that doesn’t deserve some sort of recognition, then someone’s got some explaining to do.