While doing my summer reading (media guides, stat books, preview magazines) I keep coming back to the 2000 season. Oh, what could have been. The 2001 season has always stuck out to me as a hugely disappointing season, but going 3-8 left little doubt that State was NOT a title contender that year. 2000 on the other hand featured a number of close games that, if they had gone the other way, would have landed Mississippi State in the SEC Championship Game or more.
The 2000 Bulldogs had all the guys we needed: Wayne Madkin, Dicenzo Miller, [the good] Dontae Walker, Justin Griffith, Terrell Grindle, [a young] Justin Jenkins, Donald Lee, Pork Chop Womack, Fred Smoot, Eugene Clinton, Josh Morgan, Mario Haggan, Pig Prather, and Scott Westerfield kicking. I'm bringing back the memories now...
The year started out with three straight road games: 17-3 win at Memphis, 44-28 thrashing of BYU, and then heartbreak at the hands of South Carolina. To this day, that 4th down fade by the backup quarterback haunts my dreams...
Erik Kemry-The Fade vs. MSU in 2000 (via flousc)
MSU should have won that game. It was sooo close. Lou Holtz just ripped our hearts out there. Did the three straight road games to start the year including a trip out west hurt us? Were the Dawgs looking ahead to the next week's game with Florida? Either way the Gamecocks certainly caught us with our pants down as they did #9 Georgia a couple weeks before. State was #25 entering that game, and you have to think they would've been closer to #20 heading into the Florida game had that fade never of happened.
Earlier today robnoladog relived the 3rd & 57 play from the Florida game. That entire game was amazing. Beating Steve Spurrier's #3 Florida Gators is something we all will always remember. The Bulldogs really did well to bounce back from that crushing South Carolina defeat to win this game. State found it's way back in the Top 25 at #20...but probably could have been Top 10 if not for the incident in Columbia.
Next up was #15 Auburn. Tommy Tubberville had the Tigers back on the map as they were 5-0 coming to Starkville. But State played a solid game and won 17-10 in their second straight CBS game.
On to more heartbreak.....and that's at LSU. This was Nick Saban's first year and State was so close to pulling it out. The Dawgs took a 31-17 lead into the 4th quarter in Death Valley, lost it, then tied it up to send the game into overtime. But that's where LSU ended up with the W. Almost.
Middle Tennessee State, at Kentucky and even Alabama were easy wins for Mississippi State to put their record at 7-2 (4-2). Auburn and LSU were also 4-2 at the time with each team beating each other. With games coming up against an Arkansas team that had lost four straight and an average Ole Miss team, things looked good for MSU to return to Atlanta despite the two heart-breakers in Columbia and Baton Rouge.
But this is where you get disappointed big time. Mississippi State, all the way up to #13, is at home against UPig and takes a 10-0 1st quarter and halftime lead. Things are looking great because State had a 16-GAME HOME WINNING STREAK - 3rd longest in the nation at the time. The offense couldn't get anything going the entire game (the one TD was a Pick-6), and the Hogs tied the game with a touchdown in the 4th quarter to send it to overtime. In OT, Arkansas scored first to take a 17-10 lead. MSU got all the way down to the one yard line on their possession, but Dontae Walker was stopped just short to end the game. That one got away.
So, here the Dawgs stand at 7-3 but only a few plays away from being 10-0 and undoubtedly ranked in the Top 5. Whether being 10-0 or 9-1 and already winning the West would've made a difference in Oxford that year I don't know, but the 45-30 loss to Ole Miss that year was by far the largest margin of defeat State had. Auburn won the West in 2000 with a 6-2 record and faced Florida. MSU had beaten both of those teams.
I'm not sure Jackie Sherrill could have cracked the Spurrier code twice in one year, but he was so close to having the chance. If nothing else, winning the West two out of three years would've been huge. The 2000 season ended with the classic Snow Bowl game...it could've been the Cotton or even the Sugar Bowl. Call me crazy but if State was 10-0 going into the Egg Bowl I have to wonder how differently that game would've gone...would we have won, could we have played Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the national championship?