Let's take a trip around the Southeastern Conference and see how the other guys faired on National Signing Day. For the next couple of weeks I'll analyze the recruiting class from each school in the SEC. Check back and find out all the interesting information I've uncovered about the Gators' competition...This is part 3 in an 11-part series.
Previous tour stop links (CLICK THE SCHOOL): Auburn, Alabama.
GAINESVILLE -- It was dark when the imaginary tour bus motored down a desolate Mississippi highway in search of Mississippi State University. People in Miami do not know darkness like this. The tour bus missed the exit to MSU and doubled back. This is cowbell country.
People call me crazy but Mississippi State has long been one of my favorite campuses in the SEC. Not only is it home to one of my favorite college football players, freshman quarterback Wesley Carroll, Mississippi State is just plain fun. Folks say there's nothing to do in Starkville, Miss. Those people lack imagination and four-wheel drive.
State coach Sly Croom certainly lacks no imagination. He inherited a mess but has transformed State into a legitimate contender in the ultra-competitive SEC West. The Bulldogs won eight games in 2007 and beat Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl. Most impressive were wins against Auburn, Alabama, Kentucky and rival Ole Miss. One would think the momentum of such an impressive season would have buoyed recruiting in Stark Vegas. Truth is, Croom already had a quality recruiting class committed to State before the Bulldogs' surprising season.
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS (Distance from Gainesville: about 615 country miles)
Top three: DT Templeton Hardy (6-3, 295 pounds); DB Charles Mitchell (5-11, 187 pounds); ATH Rashun Dixon (6-2, 227 pounds)
Missed out on: A quarterback...any quarterback. The career-ending hip injury to junior quarterback Michael Henig has left State with only three scholarship passers. Both Mississippi State and Ole Miss thought they might have a chance to steal away quarterback prospect Jim Youngblood from Arkansas when former 'Hogs coach Houston Nutt left for Ole Miss. Youngblood, however, stayed put in Fayetteville, Ark., canceling visits to both Mississippi schools after speaking with new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.
Sleeper: DE Shane McCardell (6-5, 220 pounds, Beaumont West Brook, Texas) Mississippi State identified McCardell late in the recruiting process. Once State offered McCardell, several other schools, including Texas, became interested. Texas offered McCardell but the defensive end remained true to Mississippi State and signed with the Bulldogs. Croom wanted to improve his team speed with this signing class and McCardell reflects that philosophy. McCardell runs a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, according to State's football website.
Floridians: WR Charles Bailey (6-2, 173 pounds, Jacksonville Bartram Trail); LB Sean Ferguson (6-4, 225 pounds, Miami Norland); Corey Broomfield (5-10, 157 pounds, Palm Bay Bayside); LB Kirkland Gainous (6-2, 205 pounds, Tallahassee Lincoln). Ferguson, PICTURED, committed to Mississippi State after a long recruiting process, which included offers from Rutgers, South Florida, FAU and FIU. Bailey is the son of Charles Bailey Sr., a scout for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Recruiting insider: State graduated two starters along the defensive front and retooled at the position with seven defensive line commitments. Defensive tackles Josh Jones and Templeton Hardy are expected to compete for playing time next fall. Hardy chose the Bulldogs over SEC West rivals Ole Miss, Alabama and LSU. Jones is an equally impressive runner stopper. Croom signed 16 players from the state of Mississippi, trouncing Ole Miss for homegrown talent. Ole Miss, which underwent a coaching change after the 2007 season, signed six in-state prospects. Defensive back Charles Mitchell, PICTURED, the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year, is one of the best prospects out of prep power Clarksdale High in the last 25 years, according to longtime Clarksdale coach Jim Hughes. WR O'Neal Wilder (6-5, 190 pounds, 4.5 in the 40-yard dash) received attention from Miami before committing to the Bulldogs.
Impact freshman: ATH Rashun Dixon (6-2, 227 pounds, 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash) is the younger brother of current Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon. Rashun could contribute immediately for the Bulldogs if he actually shows up on campus this summer. A Jackson (Miss.) Tate High product, Rashun is also a talented baseball player and will likely be drafted this summer. If the money is right, Dixon could be putting his college football career on hold for a couple years (or maybe forever). If Dixon does enroll at Mississippi State, he could play a number of positions for the Bulldogs in 2008. If nothing else, he'll be a major special teams contributor his freshman season.
ONE BIG QUESTION: Can State keep pace in the West? Ignore the recruiting website team rankings, Mississippi State signed a competitive class on National Signing Day. State filled its immediate needs along the defensive line with several talented prospects and the Bulldogs added several potential stars at defensive back. Croom has established himself as the top recruiter in the Magnolia State but that foundation will now be tested with proven recruiters surrounding Starkville to the north, south, east and west. State can co-exist with Houston Nutt and Ole Miss but the Bulldogs can't afford to lose some of their state's top talent to Alabama, LSU and Southern Miss.
TOUR BUS PODCAST: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Here at Gator Clause, State coach Sly Croom is one of our favorite coaches in college football. He's honest, humble, intelligent, a direct link to one of the SEC's greatest coaches (Paul "Bear" Bryant) and the gods of college football rewarded him handsomely in 2007 (See the Egg Bowl). What does Croom need to do in 2008 to build even more momentum? Joe Goodman, PICTURED, rings the traditional Mississippi State cowbell in his latest recruiting tour bus podcast. [CLICK THE PLAY BUTTON TO LISTEN]
Next stop: Baton Rouge, La., and the home of the LSU Tigers. Distance to Baton Rouge from Starkville: 303. Total miles logged: 580 miles. Schools covered: Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State.
BLOGS FROM GREAT SPORTS WRITERS [CLICK THE WRITER]: Kyle Veazey covers Mississippi State for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Gregg Ellis covers Mississippi State for the Northeast Mississippi (Tupelo) Daily Journal.