By JOEL COLEMAN
We’re another week closer to the start of the 2015-2016 athletic season. In just six weeks, Mississippi State kicks off another year of football, and while most everyone has eyes on that first game on the gridiron, there’s still plenty of other preparations going on in Starkville. We look at a few of those here in the second edition of the 3-pointer, where we examine a few of the week’s highlights on the Mississippi State beat.
- MSU men’s hoops getting bigger, faster and stronger – Us media types got to spend a few minutes on Wednesday with members of the Bulldog basketball team. One of the big takeaways revolved around the early success MSU is having working with new director of basketball performance David Deets. You can read more about Deets later this week in the SDN, but he mentioned how pretty much everyone has added at least 10 pounds of muscle, noting Fallou Ndoye has added around 20 pounds to put him around the 240 mark. One Bulldog not gaining is Starkville native Gavin Ware. Ware has been working on becoming more lean, and says he’s near the weight he was as a freshman. Speaking of freshmen….
- Malik Newman seems to have found a new best friend – Who is it you ask? None other than fellow point guard, junior I.J. Ready. It was fun to hear Ready speak candidly about the growth of his relationship with the highly-touted freshman. Ready spoke of everything from the intensity of his first on-court encounter with Newman to forming a bond that now includes late-night FaceTime sessions. You’ll be able to read more on this story in an upcoming edition of the SDN as well.
- McFatrich is transforming the mindset of the MSU volleyball team – Pick up a Sunday copy of the SDN to get a better glimpse of this, but new head coach David McFatrich has his team fired up to make history. We spoke with Payton Harris and Ellen Stuart on Thursday, along with McFatrich, and it was incredibly apparent how things have changed inside the volleyball locker room. It has been nearly a decade since MSU has had a winning volleyball season, so it was interesting to hear from the players about altering the attitudes inside the program. Stuart and Harris explained how the squad has gone from being okay with losing to making it absolutely unacceptable. I think you’ll find it an entertaining and informative read.
Okay, I won’t let you leave without giving you at least a little dose of football if you want it. Check out my story below on the wild, wild SEC West. Have a great Sunday everyone.
SEC West is simply unpredictable
By JOEL COLEMAN
Pick a team from a hat. That squad just might be your champion.
Such is life in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division. Seven football teams, all with strengths, all with concerns, sit just weeks away from beginning the quest to answer the question no one can seem to figure out. Just who is going to win this thing?
“I think the one thing that does separate the division from a lot of other schools is all seven schools think they have a legitimate chance to win the conference title,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said earlier this month at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama. “I know as coach talk you come into every season saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to find a way to win our division or our conference championship.’ But when you look at the West, I always feel I can look at every team as I’m scouting, as we’re preparing for the season, as I’m evaluating them, and I can make a legitimate argument for all seven teams in the West of how they can win our side of the league.”
The media personnel who cover the SEC apparently feel the same way. When the league’s official predicted order of finish was released, all seven teams from the West received at least two votes to win the division. Each team also received at least one vote to win the conference.
The wide array of opinions also led to an odd voting twist. Traditional league power Alabama was projected to repeat as Western Division champions, while Auburn actually received more votes to win the SEC.
As head-scratching as that may seem, it only further serves the fact that no one truly knows who is going to survive the gauntlet that lies ahead.
“In my opinion, the West is the toughest conference in football,” said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. “I don’t even think it’s close. You look at the Mississippi schools, you look at adding a very athletic Texas A&M to the West, I mean, it’s a man’s league. There’s no off weeks. Everybody asks about the SEC and all that and the thing that really stands out to me is the grind.
“It’s just a matter of surviving the grind, and the team that does that being able to have enough fuel and enough energy and everything that goes with it to finish the deal.”
No coach in the West has walked into and out of the flames with more success than Alabama’s Nick Saban. About to begin his ninth season with the Crimson Tide after spending five years leading the LSU Tigers earlier in his career, Saban has guided six different teams to Western Division titles and won five SEC championships.
As he gets ready to begin his 14th year as a head coach in the West, Saban recognizes how powerful the division has become, but says the other half of the league is by no means a pushover either.
“I think the SEC as a league is still one of the, top to bottom, one of the best leagues there are, and that includes the East and the West,” Saban said. “I think the footprint of our league has changed a little bit, which probably enhanced us in the West a little bit more. I can’t really answer beyond that. I just know that there’s a lot of good football players and a lot of good football coaches in our division, but I have that same respect for everyone in our league.”
Though there’s plenty of admiration to go around for the teams in the West, and SEC as a whole, when the ball is teed up for kickoff at the league championship game in December, only two teams will be on the field at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
One man who might have a big say in who represents the West is Mississippi State senior quarterback Dak Prescott.
As a Heisman Trophy frontrunner for much of last season, Prescott and the Bulldogs saw firsthand how cruel their division can be. Despite a 10-win regular season, MSU was left out of the SEC title game, coming up a game short to Saban’s Crimson Tide.
Prescott knows his Bulldogs have a chance to author a happier script in 2015, but so too does every other team in the West. With that in mind, Prescott says in the end, it will all come down to execution.
“Everyone across the SEC West has equal talent,” Prescott said. “It is not about a talent level, it is about the things you do to give you an edge.”