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The Margins are Fine by Me

Sylvester Croom had happier tidings to bring to Hoover this year than in the past. After all, the Mississippi State Bulldogs -- who, unlike some other teams, know how to spell their mascot's name -- went 8-5 last year, their best season under Croom and the team's first winning season since 2000.

But one fact still can't be ignored about Dear Ole State: Their "life on the margins," as SMQ puts it:

Thus, the basic problem: was Mississippi State a slightly above average team by definition, because of its final record and wins over Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky and in the Liberty Bowl (wherein Central Florida outgained MSU but missed three field goals and lost a defensive slog, 7-3), or was it still a fundamentally bad but improbably lucky team destined to fall to earth without the same dramatic breaks?

Sly doesn't think so. The question came up Wednesday at SEC Media Days, in the context of having "several close games last year," and Croom brushed it off.

"This is the Southeastern Conference, they're going to be close," he said. "The blowouts back when I was playing in Alabama ... are over. Games are going to be decided by seven points or less, and it's going to come down to somebody doing something right or wrong at the end of the game."

That ignores some immovable facts about Mississippi State's remarkable, "turnaround" season. Three of the four conference wins -- at Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss -- came by a total of 13 points. Florida, a team that had one more win than Mississippi State, and a conference win at that, had only one of its victories decided by fewer than seven points. The Bulldogs lived on the edge all year.

But Croom and his charges are aiming for bigger and better things. Sophomore quarterback Wesley Carroll, whose arm was the subject of much of the discussion Wednesday, spoke of a "14-game season" -- in other words, once including the SEC CG and a bowl.

"Obviously, we have to go and surpass the 8-5 record, which we feel like we are capable of doing," Carroll said.

But even he seemed to understood the nature of the Bulldogs' wins would have to change for them to seen as more than fluke.

"This year, we hope to win with maybe a little more flair and a little more style."

Because they're almost certain to have a little less luck.