Mississippi State fans trying to Forget the Maine

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

[9/23/04]”Remember the Maine.”

That battle cry became legend during the Spanish-American War of 1898 after the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Cuba’s Havana Harbor.

“Forget the Maine” is the new battle cry for Mississippi State.

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Saturday’s 9-7 loss to a team from the hockey-crazed Northeastern Conference was a low point in a season that started with promise. It was a low point to an institution desperately seeking something to cheer about.

Opening with Tulane, the Bulldogs played with poise, discipline and showed character. MSU opened the season in a fashion fans had gotten used to: a dominating three-touchdown victory.

A loss to a powerful Auburn team followed, but that defeat was not unexpected.

The loss to Maine was.

The Black Bears are a good Division I-AA team, but they are a Division I-AA team. The difference in talent level is staggering. Only a handful of I-AAs can compete with bigger schools in bigger conferences.

The only Division I-AA team to beat a Division I-A team this season was No. 8 New Hampshire, which defeated Rutgers, 35-24. Rutgers, the New Jersey juggernaut, has had one winning season in the past 16 years.

Division I powers such as Navy, Louisiana-Lafayette and Northern Illinois were able to win against some of the top I-AA schools in the country.

The fact is Maine had no business beating Mississippi State. The enormity of the loss could be felt for some time.

As Sly Croom ran off the field following the Tulane victory, he smiled broadly. The players talked of righting the ship, of forgetting about the past three seasons that saw the Bulldogs win a total of seven games.

By all accounts, Mississippi State should be 2-1 going into its game Saturday at LSU. After last Saturday’s shocking loss, and with LSU fuming from a disputed loss to Auburn, it could get ugly quickly in Baton Rouge.

Croom knew this season would be filled with growing pains. He had been candid in saying that his team doesn’t have the talent to compete week-in, week-out in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference. He has preached patience in trying to build a winner. He stresses character.

That character will be tested in the coming weeks. The loss to Maine can have two effects: (1) It can rally the team from a low point in the school’s football history, or (2) The Bulldogs can fall to the depths they found themselves in during the final days of the Jackie Sherrill era. Even in the miserable 2002 campaign, the Bulldogs defeated both I-AA teams they faced.

The Maine debacle will be a watershed moment for the Mississippi State football program.

Which way the water runs is yet to be seen.

Sean P. Murphy is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. E-mail him at smurphy@vicksburgpost.com.