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March 22, 2006

SCS.comThe Mississippi State Bulldogs are undefeated and ranked number one in the country. MSU had high expectations in 2006, and thus far they have lived up to the hype. The Bulldogs are 16-0 and 2-0 in the SEC. The last time State were ranked in the top spot was way back in 1993. Coach Ron Polk is in the midst of his second stint in Starkville, and it appears that he has the program right were he wants it.

The Bulldogs were ranked anywhere from 10 to 20 in most preseason polls, but they have overachieved the expectations from the media so far. They were a unanimous pick to win the West in the coaches' and media preseason polls. The fans in Starkville may have known the true potential of this team, but I think they have surprised the rest of the country just a bit. Mississippi State has established itself as a team that will contend for the National Championship in June.

A big part of the Bulldogs' success can be attributed to the pitching. The staff's ERA is 2.12, while the big three's (Brooks Dunn, Josh Johnson, Matt Lea) ERA is a combined 2.49 and 11-0 on the year. John Lalor, John Crosby, Chad Crosswhite, and Brett Cleveland have been effective also.

At the plate, the Bulldogs have been salty. Eight different Dawgs are hitting over .300 which is very good sixteen games into the season. Joseph Hunter leads the team in RBI's with 17 and he has one longball. Jeff Butts and Andy Rice each have 2 homers to lead the team. The Bulldog squad has not shown a lot of power this year, but it has not stopped them from winning. Thomas Berkery has started all 16 ballgames and is hitting an out-of-this-world .417 with one homer and 10 RBI's.

The Bulldogs travel to Red Stick this weekend to face LSU in and early season SEC showdown. MSU should handle the Tigers, as LSU coming off a series loss at upstart Kentucky. I see no stop in the #1 team in America as they sweep the Tigers at Alex Box. Mississippi State has been down by their standards for the past few years, but now this team has found the formula to win and it is going to be tough to beat these guys. They will not go undefeated, but they will win at least 20 SEC games.

Arkansas has the talent to challenge the Bulldogs, but they must improve their defensive play in order for that to take place. I picked the Bulldogs to win the West and I still think they will, but there is a long way to go. Injuries always can effect a team on a roll. If the Bulldogs avoid major injuries or can adjust if they do come along, then pencil them into Omaha. If this team gets to host a Super Regional, they are certainly Nebraska bound. Mississippi is one of the only SEC teams to ever blow a trip to Omaha as Super host. This team may not be as talented as last years Rebel team, but they are better coached and more focused.

In conclusion, Ron Polk has the Bulldogs back on the national map. This team has all the ingredients to win it all. When it comes to actually winning, it takes luck, timing, talent, coaching, and fate. This team has the talent and coaching; the question is will the baseball gods shine down on the Bulldog Nation?

The pitching staff is the best top to bottom in the SEC. If this team has a weakness, it is their lack of a homerun hitter. Teams can be successful without one, but that is the only knock I see with this group. I think this team, barring injury and further rainouts, will go 22-7 in the SEC and win the overall title. I picked the Florida Gators a few weeks back, but they would have been swept by Arkansas last weekend if the Hogs could field the ball. The Gators will not be so lucky throughout the year.

I think the SEC could send 4 to Omaha this year like they did in 2004. The Bulldogs look like the team to beat in the SEC as of mid-March. The stretch from April 21st to May 7th is where the Bulldogs will win the SEC or see it slip away. They play the three best SEC teams other than themselves in three consecutive weeks, hosting Arkansas, then traveling to South Carolina, and finally hosting Florida. If the Bulldogs go 5-4 or better during that stretch, they will be the conference champs.

This team also has the arms to win the SEC Tournament and a certain other double elimination tournament held in Omaha. I think it is safe to say that those Bulldog fans calling for Polk's removal over the past few years are getting a heavy dose of crow about now!

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