Team preview: Mississippi State

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(All information as of June 20, 2008)

Through his first three years at Mississippi State, coach Sylvester Croom battled with the lingering effects of NCAA probation and a host of talent, depth and attitude problems he inherited from former coach Jackie Sherrill. When he won only nine games from 2004-06, he also fought to convince frustrated Mississippi State fans that the program was on the right path.

Croom's patience and persistence paid off last year when the Bulldogs beat bowl-bound Auburn, Kentucky and Alabama and pulled off a dramatic comeback win over archrival Ole Miss. The Bulldogs finished off the season with their first winning record (8-5) and their first bowl trip since 2000, defeating UCF, 10-7, in the Liberty Bowl.

In the process, Croom earned SEC Coach-of-the-Year honors and received a new contract and will now make about $1 million per year. That's a far cry from what Alabama's Nick Saban and LSU's Les Miles are being paid, but it's a sign of good faith that the university believes in Croom and his plan.

"Our success last year validates our philosophy, our approach to building a program, that what we're doing and how we're doing it works," Croom said. "It lets everyone know that with patience we can reach our goal. It's inspired excitement, enthusiasm and confidence within the Bulldog family and also with prospects in our state."