There has never been a worse stretch for the Mississippi State football fan than 2001-2006. There have been other down times throughout MSU history, but this was the worst. State was ranked #18 coming into 2001 and expectations were sky high. We were let down with a hugely disappointing 3-8 season, then lost the next three Egg Bowls, and it took until 2007 to get back to a bowl game.
In 1997, Jackie Sherrill used junior college transfers to create one of the best recruiting classes in MSU history. He tried to repeat that feat in 2001 by signing 12 jucos and it didn’t work. In fact, it turned into a complete disaster as players with questionable character and academics came in and tore everything apart. Sherrill reversed track in 2002 and went back to high school players, and seemingly recovered as the class was LOADED with talent. But the damage was already done and even half of that class turned into busts.
Ole Miss had great recruiting years from 2006-2008, kind of like MSU did from 1997-1999. And it paid off with back-to-back 9-4 seasons and Cotton Bowl victories in 2008 and 2009. But in ’09, Houston Nutt signed 37 players and they’ve fizzled into a worthless group just like State’s 2001 class was. Only 19 of those players are still on their roster. The jury is still out on the Bears highly touted 2010 class, but they appear to be on the same path as the Dawg’s 2002 group. The result of this has been falling face first into the cellar of the SEC West and three straight Egg Bowl losses.
In 2004, Sylvester Croom was brought in as head coach after Sherrill retired. Despite no previous head coaching experience, Croom was a high-character individual who was needed to turn around a football team in disarray. His first recruiting class was almost embarrassing. With not much talent coming in and players quitting by the handful, State was in for a long and tough recovery.
After falling out of the bad football team tree and hitting every branch on the way down, Ole Miss fired Houston Nutt and hired Hugh Freeze this past December. Freeze does have some low-level head coaching experience, but it appears as though the Bears are looking for a “character” individual to turn things around. Freeze is unlikely to be as stubborn as Croom was with delinquents, but there are almost always dismissals with a new coach. His first class does have a couple of good players, but it looks pretty bad for an SEC team. And Freeze has a different obstacle than Croom had: his in-state rival is good.
We’ll see how things go, but there are a lot of similarities between Mississippi State’s down years and where Ole Miss is now. Hugh Freeze may be able to bring TSUN back to respectability fairly quick, but he’s got some big obstacles ahead of him.