msu column

What might have been must give way to what can be

The ride from Atlanta to Shreveport has never gone by so quickly.

Two weeks ago Mississippi State was ranked 13th in the country and was one of the prime contenders for the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division championship.

The Bulldogs could almost see the Georgia Dome on the horizon.

And maybe that was part of the problem.

Had they executed a 22-yard field goal with four seconds to play against Arkansas, game-long offensive sins would have been forgiven, and the Bulldogs would have had the chance to win the West in Oxford.

The chance.

Completely healthy on defense, and State might have beaten Ole Miss last Thursday. But completely healthy on offense, Ole Miss might have denied State the title in Oxford two years ago.

Injuries are as much a part of football as the fullback dive.

The bowl status MSU now endures has its roots not in a Thanksgiving night loss but in failure to execute single plays at South Carolina, at LSU and against Arkansas.

The Bulldogs could end up in the Independence Bowl, and that’s where plenty of projections have them headed.

State is also in the mix, apparently to a lesser extent, for the Music City Bowl and the Peach Bowl. Athletics director Larry Templeton says conversations with bowl representatives have him confident the Bulldogs will play in an SEC-affiliated game.

Stay tuned.

More Jackie talk

While the Bulldogs prepare for postseason, talk of their head coach in connection with the Alabama job has lessened, but hasn’t vanished.

Jackie Sherrill is considered a longshot candidate by those closely following the traveling circus, oops, I mean the Alabama coaching search.

With Miami’s Butch Davis and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer removing themselves from consideration, Sherrill would likely be too proud to go as the third choice. Alabama athletics director Mal Moore has never sought official contact with Sherrill, Templeton said.

But at Alabama, the way things used to be are very important.

Sherrill is one of Bear Bryant’s young-uns, and he will always have a measure of support there.

Case in point: the plane that circled Bryant-Denny Stadium during the Alabama-Auburn game with the banner which read, “Dear Mal, hire Jackie Sherrill … please.”

Program established

The 2000 finish may not reach the mid-season expectations, but Sherrill has something going at State.

Eight offensive starters from a pretty stout unit – and exciting young talent in the wings – will be back next year.

The defense will lose key players on the line and in the secondary, but defense is the side of the ball that has usually been more stable in Starkville. And it’s the side in which Sherrill most capably fills holes with junior college talent.

The history is modest, but this program is in its finest times.

The Bulldogs will be at or near the top of the Western Division when the guessing games begin next summer.

And the pieces will be in place to possibly complete the trip to Atlanta in 2001.

Parrish Alford covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal. E-mail him at parrish.alford@djournal.com.