COLUMBIA, SC - SEPTEMBER 17: Wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks grabs a warmup pass against the Navy Midshipmen September 17, 2011 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
100 Days of MSU Football - Day 26
It's been noted before that State is on the verge of breaking through and being one of the better programs, consistently at least, in the SEC. No we probably won't ever be an Alabama, Florida, or LSU, but State fans are looking for the Bulldogs to finally win the big game, the close one, make those runs late in the season to propel us to a New Year's Day Bowl game.
After a highly successful, highly unexpected 2010 campaign, State fans (my self most certainly included) came into the 2011 season with huge expectations - hoping to build off the momentum of a blowout victory in a New Year's Day Bowl against a college football powerhouse (Michigan) the previous January. But things didn't exactly shake out as we had probably hoped - State limped to a 7-6 record, although we did finish with 2 straight wins to end the season. But there were several opportunities last fall for State to make the breakthrough - get the big win that could propel us to being considered a more consistent contender in the West.
Even after a heartbreaking loss to Auburn and a tough fought loss to LSU at home 5 days later, State still had a chance to have a solid year in 2011. We knew it would be tough, but it was still doable, aided by a schedule that was certainly navigable up to the November meeting with Alabama. But State again stumbled, losing a game to Georgia in Athens, and also losing a game at home to South Carolina 14-12 (26 combined points).
The game against South Carolina stood out as the most difficult loss to take because State had the Gamecocks (and the Ole Ball Coach) right where we wanted them. 10-7, although it wasn't pretty, and most if not all of us were feeling good about our chances of walking away with a win. But Alshon Jeffrey was having none of it, and an unstoppable wide out proved just how unstoppable he could be, putting the nail in State's proverbial coffin with a late TD grab to give the Gamecocks a win.
Out of all of the heartbreaking losses, the games that were so close but yet we still took the L, why does the South Carolina game stick out to me? Because we had them. At home, a top 15 ranked opponent, a chance to swing the season even after some tough losses and still, we just didn't have enough to pull it out. Pulling out those type of games though is what it will take this fall to separate this football team from teams of the past. We've had "promising" teams before, teams ranked preseason and teams expected to do good, not great, things. But if the 2012 team wants to take us a step forward, they have to start by winning the big games. This is the SEC - there will always be Alshon Jeffrey's and Marcus Lattimore's and Aaron Murray's waiting to do their worst to us. If we want to be everything Dan Mullen and our fan base wants us to be, then it's time we do our worst to them, and make it count. Because in the SEC moral victories don't count, it's simply wins and losses. And the 2012 edition of the dogs are more than capable of winning, so here's to hoping that even when the big game comes around, that we do - win, that is.