10 Biggest What Ifs in Mississippi State Sports History

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5. What if the 2001 and 2002 football recruiting classes hadn’t decimated the program?

From 1997-2000, Jackie Sherrill lead MSU to a 33-15 record and an SEC West championship. That run started with a 1997 recruiting class which featured an unusually large number of junior college players. At 57 years old and knowing the end of his career was just around the bend, JWS went for broke in 2001 and signed 12 junior college players that ended up destroying the program.

On paper, it was a good class….in reality it was a nightmare. A preseason No. 18 team ended 3-8 that year. The 2002 class had just as much talent but via the high school route…with only about half of them living up to the billing – and many others contributed to the demolition of the program. But what if these two classes had at least been decent teammates – what if they would have lived up to their potential?

The West is a behemoth of a division right now, but in 2001 the East was more powerful. Nick Saban was able to elevate LSU back to a SEC Championship, but they were the only ranked team from the West that year. Part of the reason was that Mississippi State was supposed to be good. Everyone else in the division ended the year 7-5; those should have all been wins for MSU but only Ole Miss was.

BYU was No. 10 and 11-0 when they came to Starkville but the Dawgs almost beat them anyway – if this team were better, I believe the Dawgs win that one. Basically, State should have won every game except at No. 2 Florida and vs. LSU. The Tigers won the West with a 5-3 record that year – State would have been 6-2 and had their 2nd division championship.

It’s likely the Bulldogs would have lost to #2 Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game and gone on to play Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The Vols would’ve gone to the Rose Bowl and played Miami (FL) for the national championship.

Heading into 2002, Mississippi State would’ve likely been equally ranked when heading to No. 15 Oregon in the season opener. Would Kevin Fant have accepted that discount on the tires? Probably so, and Kyle York still would’ve started and State was probably doomed in that game. The rest of the games – I don’t see why the Dawgs wouldn’t have gone 9-3 that year. The West wasn’t that great – Alabama won the division with a 6-2 record, but couldn’t go to the SEC Championship Game since they were on probation…so another possible trip to Atlanta missed.

2003 was the 2-10 disaster, but it certainly shouldn’t have been.

Basically, what I’m saying is, if the 2001 and 2002 recruiting classes could’ve lived up to half their potential we could’ve been looking a sustained run of success from ’97 to the mid-00s. The Western division didn’t end the season with three ranked teams in it until 2005…the opportunity was there to win it a couple of times. How long would Jackie Sherrill have stayed before retiring? I have to think he would’ve been the head coach until he was 65 (2008). And ’08 was the year Croom was fired, could we have had Mullen anyway? I don’t know but I know we wouldn’t have had the Croom years.

Those six years from ’01-’06 were tough to take, and those two recruiting classes were the center of the problem. It’s too bad all that talent was wasted, but it was.