We knew this year was coming. Of the Big Four sports the Mississippi St. Bulldogs and their fans put most of their attention on, we knew 2016-17, with the exception of Women’s Basketball, would be full of growing pains. We have reached the last quarter of the school year and despite the fact we knew what was coming, it has become a test of endurance for many fans.
The task presented to fans was to understand the teams they love and cheer for would take their lumps in 2016-17 in the hopes it would prepare them for greater glory in 2017-18. But the lumps the teams received have come in more abundance than many of us thought.
The football team opened with an astonishing loss to South Alabama to open the season and finished the regular season with the first losing season since 2009. Some of the sting of those losses were soothed with a complete dismantling of the Rebels in the Egg Bowl and a bowl berth due to APR despite the losing record.
The Men’s Basketball team gave us hope they were ahead of schedule when they started SEC play 3-1. But since their valiant effort against the Kentucky Wildcats, the Bulldogs limped to the SEC Tournament this week with a 3-11 record to close out the season. Injuries and a roster of freshmen held the team back, and when it came time to close out games, the inexperience of MSU showed and the team often could not do it.
The Women’s Basketball team has been the ray of hope, but even they have showed the past two weeks that they might need another season to reach their full potential. With a chance to close out the last two games and win the outright SEC Championship for the first time in program history, the Bulldogs couldn’t win either game. In the SEC Tournament Championship, with a surge of momentum and a five point lead as the fourth quarter opened, Mississippi State was only able to put four points on the board and still show they aren’t ready to topple South Carolina.
The baseball team just finished off a tough weekend in Oregon where they lost two of three and currently have a 7-5 record. The team has six more games before conference play starts, and there is a good chance they could have one or two more losses before that first weekend in SEC play starts against Arkansas in Fayetteville. Making it to a regional is looking more and more like a longshot.
While this is all very sad and very gloomy, hope remains in the horizon. The football team returns Nick Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams plus a new defensive coordinator who should at least put a defense on the field that isn’t a complete and total embarrassment.
The Men’s Basketball team returns everyone but I.J. Ready. They will also welcome three more highly talented recruits to a team that has learned a lot about what it takes to compete in the SEC night in and night out.
The Women’s Basketball team loses some very significant pieces, but they have plenty of hope returning as well. Victoria Vivians, Morgan William, and Teaira McCowan all return to the team and will be joined by yet another stellar recruiting class to keep the program rolling in the right direction.
And the baseball team will lose some significant pieces (likely Brent Rooker and Jake Mangum and some others) but most of this team’s nucleus will be in tact for the 2017-18 season. Konnor Pilkington could have one of the best seasons ever for a Mississippi State pitcher if he can continue to build on what he is doing in the current season.
Much of how we remember the 2016-17 school year for the Mississippi State athletic teams will be viewed through the lens of the year to follow. If all four programs are able to successfully bounce back and take major steps forward, the current year will be viewed as a difficult one, but one that built each program into a competitor on the national level. If they can’t, it will make a difficult transition feel like a colossal disappointment.
This year has been tough. No Bulldog fan will likely say otherwise. But if 2017-18 ends up being as successful as many think it will be, it will make this one a little bit more bearable.