Will Mississippi State Have to Rebuild in 2016?


Nov 14, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott (15) drops back in the pocket during the first quarter of that game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of job openings across the college football landscape. And as I told you a while back, Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen is going to be mentioned for a lot of those jobs. But there is a new spin to it this season. This season’s spin is the narrative of Dan Mullen reaching his ceiling at Mississippi State.

I bring this up because Alex Scarborough wrote the most recent piece I am aware of about how Mullen should leave Mississippi State after the 2015 season because there simply isn’t much more he can accomplish as the head coach here. After all, is there any chance that Mullen will ever be able to get the Bulldogs to the number 1 ranking in the country? And for that matter, with the juggernaut that is Alabama, will he ever be able to navigate a season he overcomes all of those teams in the SEC West and then has enough left in the tank to take down the Tide?

It’s a legitimate question. Mississippi State, by Dan Mullen’s own words, is a developmental school. We can attract a few top recruits, but landing top 15 classes year after year is likely never going to happen. So the coaching staff has to take players with a lot more jagged edges and shape them into great football players. And Mullen and his staff have done a fine job of that.

But one of the prevailing thoughts about why Mullen might want to leave is he is losing the best quarterback Mississippi State has ever had. Dak Prescott has helped elevate the national profile of the school in ways no player before him ever has. And because he is losing a once in a lifetime player, a rebuild is in the works for 2016.

But will the Bulldogs actually be rebuilding in 2016? Before the injuries to Will Redmond and Kendrick Market, Mississippi State had 8 of its 22 starters as seniors, but the number has been reduced to 6 of the 22 with the loss of those two players. If you take it to the 2 deep roster, only two additional players are seniors. That means Mississippi State will return over 80% of the players who spent the majority of the time on the field this year.

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Most importantly, some of the best contributors on the team will be coming back in 2016. The only receiver graduating in 2015 will be Joe Morrow. De’Runnya Wilson, Fred Ross, Fred Brown, and Gus Walley will all be back. Mississippi State’s linebacking corps should be as good as ever with the return of Richie and Beniquez Brown. The defensive linemen should terrorize quarterbacks. Only Ryan Brown graduates. Chris Jones could probably declare for the draft and get picked up on talent and skill set alone, but it would likely be in his best interest to stay one more year and show he can live up to the potential we have seen flashes of at times.

As for who the Bulldogs lose, Mississippi State will have to replace the left side of their offensive line. Justin Malone and Rufus Warren will be graduating. Taveze Calhoun, one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the SEC, will also be leaving the Bulldogs in 2015.

But the most important loss the Bulldogs will have is Dak Prescott. And since he will be gone, many assume the Bulldogs will struggle next season. How likely is that to happen? I just don’t know.

Make no mistake about it, Dak Prescott is a legend for Mississippi State. He is the offense for the team. The Bulldogs have no running game to speak of and the coaches ask Prescott to shoulder a heavy burden, and he has met the challenge almost every single time. Regardless of how you feel about Nick Fitzgerald or Elijah Staley, Mississippi State is going to be impacted by the loss of Dak Prescott.

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  • The narrative entering 2015 about the Bulldogs was Dak Prescott wouldn’t be enough to keep the Bulldogs out of the cellar. The Bulldogs won’t finish last as it appears Auburn is headed for that distinction, but just how far above the cellar they finish we don’t know yet. But he was good enough to get the Bulldogs above the low expectations for the team. Will there be enough talent and experience surrounding the new starting quarterback to keep the Bulldogs afloat, and in turn, convince Dan Mullen he can take this program to even greater heights he already has?

    Many who write about college football obviously don’t think so. That is why we are already hearing about 2016 being a rebuilding year. Many fans of the Bulldogs disagree. They believe Fitzgerald and Staley will be able to pick up where Dak Prescott left off.

    Personally, I’m as unsure of what to expect in 2016 as I have ever been about Mississippi State. I see lots of room for optimism with the amount of players the Bulldogs bring back for next year. And I have liked what I have seen out of both Fitzgerald and Staley. And I believe Mullen has as well, and for that reason, I sense Mullen will stay.

    But I’m not sure about the potential of next season because I don’t know how Mullen will handle the quarterback situation. Many fans believe Nick Fitzgerald is going to be the starter at quarterback and never look back. The believe Staley and Damian Williams will be looking for places to transfer.

    Here’s the problem with that. When Dan Mullen has multiple quarterbacks he really likes, he has a track record of rotating them both in and out. He did this to a certain degree in Chris Relf’s senior season and he did it a lot in Tyler Russell’s senior season. He isn’t shy about playing more than one quarterback. And he loves what both Fitzgerald and Staley bring to the table.

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    So I’m not nearly as convinced Fitzgerald is going to break all of Dak Prescott’s school records. If Mullen puts this into practice again in 2016, expect the quarterback shuffling to be frequent. And that really concerns me.

    The potential to have a solid season in 2016 is there. But the uncertainties of the quarterback position have me at a loss for what will happen on the field next year.