How Settled is Mississippi State at Quarterback in 2016?


Oct 10, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) makes a pass during the second quarter of the game against the Troy Trojans at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State won 45-17. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Most Mississippi State fans believe Nick Fitzgerald is the obvious guy to replace Dak Prescott, but it might be more open than you think.

Nick Fitzgerald is the clear favorite to be the replacement for Dak Prescott in 2016. He has been with the program since December of 2013, and has had ample amount of time to learn the offense since Fitzgerald joined the program. Though there are some who might not agree, most have already made up their minds Nick Fitzgerald is going to be the full time starter when the 2016 season rolls around,

And they have plenty of reasons to do so. Like I just said, he has been with the program for two years now. Fitzgerald also received the majority of the playing time when Mississippi State played inferior opponents and established big leads. So it makes sense on most levels that Nick Fitzgerald is a virtual lock to replace Dak Prescott. That is, until you factor in the most  important component.

How Dan Mullen has handled having multiple quarterbacks in the past.

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Because Dak Prescott has been so good the past two seasons, many of us have forgotten what Dan Mullen will often do when he has two quarterbacks he is very fond of on the team. If you forgot, he doesn’t shy away from playing both quarterbacks when he thinks they both can contribute.

The 2013 season is the best example of this. In 2013, Dak Prescott was forced into action in the season opener against Oklahoma State after senior starting quarterback Tyler Russell would be forced to leave with a concussion. So Dak came in and would start the next few games. And when he did, it became clear he was the better quarterback for the offense Dan Mullen wanted to run.

Prescott struggled with his accuracy, but his ability to run the football and still be effective in the passing game made the offense for the Bulldogs much more dangerous. Prescott ended up starting the next 3 games because Russell was never cleared to play.

After a bye week, Tyler Russell was finally cleared to play against LSU. I don’t remember if Dak or Tyler started, but Mullen had said that both would play, and both did. Each quarterback would play 2 or 3 series in the game and then give way to the other. It led to a season in which neither quarterback was able to establish a rhythm personally and with the rest of the offense.

As impressive and as poised as Nick Fitzgerald has played in the very limited amount of time we have seen him, keep in mind it the most significant time he has played this season was against Northwestern State and Troy. He looked great in those games, but we don’t have anywhere near enough of a sample size to assume he is going to light the SEC on fire in 2016.

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Even if he does, based on 2013, and to a certain extent, 2011, Mullen will play more than one quarterback if he likes both of them. Dan Mullen thinks highly of what Elijah Staley can do for this football team. If he believes they can both contribute to an offense, he will play them both. Mullen didn’t bring them both in to have one play and the other transfer.

And this doesn’t even account for Damian Williams. Williams redshirted this season to preserve an additional year of eligibility for after Dak Prescott was gone. One thing we have learned from Dan Mullen is seniority matters. In 2013, Ladarius Perkins was struggling to average four yards a carry in his senior season. Meanwhile, sophomore Josh Robinson was averaging 5.9 yards a carry, but was only given the ball about half as much as Perkins.

We all saw how reluctant Mullen was to give the ball to the freshmen running backs in 2015 over the juniors. Most believed the freshmen were the better runners, but Shumpert and Holloway still received a lot of the playing time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dan Mullen give significant playing time to Williams simply because he is the older, more experienced player.

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I know many will scoff at this idea. People are so convinced Nick Fitzgerald is the starter in waiting, it has led many people to believe there isn’t even the slightest chance there could be other alternatives. I’d be happy to be wrong about this. But based on what I have seen from Dan Mullen in the past indicates the quarterback situation is far from a done deal in 2016.