The Quad Countdown: No. 49 Mississippi State

Quick facts: It took Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom three years – three long, arduous years – to lead the Bulldogs back into bowl play, rarified air for a program that had been down. When Croom took the M.S.U. job in 2004, he inherited a program crippled under the weight of multiple N.C.A.A. sanctions and its own futility: nine wins over his first three years and 17 for the program as a whole over the previous six. Despite recent history, Croom and Mississippi State busted out in 2007, upsetting Auburn and Alabama and beating rival Mississippi in the Egg Bowl en route to an 8-5 season. It is a validation of his hard work, and the faith both his players and the administration showed him, that the Bulldogs were able to turn the corner last fall. Mississippi State has rewarded Croom with a four-year extension through 2011, a tribute to the job he has done turning around a program many thought beyond repair. But the new contract – and its hefty price tag – raises a meaningful question: Can Croom build upon last season?