John Cohen

STARKVILLE These are heady days for Mississippi State’s sports teams, and John Cohen sees even bigger things ahead.

Never before has MSU been in the national conversation on so many fronts. The football team consistently goes to bowl games and turns out high draft picks; the women’s basketball team has become a perennial national title contender; and the baseball program is as strong as it’s ever been, which is saying something.

And those teams tell only part of the story. Cohen, the baseball coach turned athletics director, rattled off a list of Bulldog achievements on Wednesday. He mentioned Anderson Peters, the reigning NCAA champion in javelin; Nuno Borges, the nation’s top-ranked men’s tennis player; and Teaira McCowan, the third overall pick in this year’s WNBA draft.

“I’ve spoken to our incoming freshmen who are in summer school, and I speak to them about the fact that they are among greatness,” Cohen said. “… It’s fun when you can say ‘Mississippi State’ and ‘the best’ in the same sentence.”

It’s quite a different vibe on campus than it was even 10 years ago.

At that time, Sylvester Croom was entering what would be his final season as football coach, baseball was struggling, and women’s hoops was an afterthought.

So how has MSU risen so high?

“The strength of the league, the SEC, has a lot to do with that,” Cohen said. “But I also think we live in an age where opportunity has a different distinction, a different meaning.

“Many years ago when I was in school here, maybe a football player thought, ‘Man, I can’t be a first-rounder and go to Mississippi State.’ Well, now they’ll say, ‘I know I can be a first-rounder and play football at Mississippi State.’”

Where’s the natty?

For all the success of late, one thing is still missing from MSU’s ever-expanding trophy case: a national championship.

The women’s basketball team came tantalizingly close in 2017 and ’18 when it reached the NCAA title game. And Cohen led the baseball squad to the finals of the College World Series in 2013.

He feels a national title for MSU is inevitable.

“There’s no question that’s going to happen,” Cohen said. “We have too many coaches giving too great an effort, too many talented student-athletes who want that to happen. …

“It’s very difficult. But if you keep knocking on the door, if you keep beating on that door long enough, eventually that door’s going to open up and you’re going to charge through it, and we’ll have that national title.”

brad.locke@journalinc.com Twitter: @bradlocke

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