Projecting what K.J. Costello could do at Mississippi State in 2020

Quarterback K.J. Costello (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Quarterback K.J. Costello (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images) /

K.J. Costello could potentially have a career-year at Mississippi State, and that would be just fine with Mike Leach.

There’s nothing set in stone stating that former Stanford quarterback and graduate transfer K.J. Costello will be the starting quarterback at Mississippi State in 2020, but that seems like the more likely assumption, especially given the short time players may have to prepare for the season.

Costello will have a few things working against him besides not having spring camp and less time together with his new teammates. He’s going to be playing under a new head coach (who is also in his first year) in a new system at a school who has never run an offense similar to the Mike Leach Air Raid.

In Costello’s favor?

He’s experienced, he’s intelligent, he picks up things quickly, he’s accurate, and he’s a proven winner.

So assuming Costello gets the nod from Mike Leach and begins the season as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback, what kind of year could he potentially have?

K.J. Costello by the numbers

Looking back at Costello’s time at Stanford (which did have its share of interruptions due to injury) here’s what the former 4-Star recruit was able to put together.

Costello didn’t see the field until his sophomore season in 2017, where he appeared in 11 games and started seven. His stats were respectable, although not eye-popping.

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124 of 211 passing for 1,573 yards, 14 touchdowns, and four interceptions, helping lead Stanford to a 9-5 record and a Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.

It was Costello’s junior year that made everyone stop and look. He took complete leadership of the team, starting all 13 games and becoming one of the best passers in school history with stats comparing to some all-time greats such as Andrew Luck and John Elway.

269 of 413 passing (65.1%) for 3,540 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, leading Stanford to a 9-4 record, but finishing behind ranked Washington and Washington State in the Pac-12 North.

His senior season was plagued injuries, including a concussion and he played just five games during the 2019 season. Still, in just five games he threw for over a thousand yards and completed 61 percent of his passes.

He was surrounded by some All-American talent, with Bryce Love in the backfield and electric wide receiver and return specialist, Cameron Scarlett, catching his passes.

So in extrapolating what numbers K.J. Costello could put together this season in Mississippi State, there are some variables to take into consideration.

Rust: Costello hasn’t had any live game action since November of 2019. It may take some time for him to find his groove, not only with his new corps of receivers, but just in his arm in general.

Defenses faced: SEC defenses are better than Pac-12 defenses, there’s no denying it. He’ll be facing some speed, size, and schemes the likes of which he never saw at Stanford.

New System: David Shaw runs a very traditional pro-style offense at Stanford, and it was a good fit for Costello. He’ll probably be fine throwing the ball even more than he did, but he’s going to need to rely more on quick drops and timing routes.

Mike Leach and K.J. Costello could be an interesting combination

Even given all those variables, the Bulldogs have a very favorable schedule this season. The first four games would likely give Costello a great opportunity to do some on-the-job learning and still come away with wins.

Leach had his team throwing the ball over 75 percent of the time at Washington State, compared to the just over 50 percent passing clip Costello was used to at Stanford. Taking variables into consideration, let’s say Costello’s overall completion percentage of 62 percent takes a slight dip with many more attempts.

Mississippi State ran 840 offensive plays last season, only 37 percent of them passes. Since this is the first season in the new offense, we’ll be conservative and say that number will go up to 65 percent this season. Chances are the total number of offensive plays will increase, probably falling between last year’s 840 and the 920 run by Washington State in 2019. We’ll call it an even 900.

That would have Costello throwing about 585 passes (he threw 413 in his best season at Stanford), and we’ll drop his completion percentage down to 55.

So, if Costello hits on 55 percent of his passes, for about 7 yards per completion (a little lower than what Leach typically gets out of his QBs), he’d go 322-for-585, for 2,254 yards. That would break Dak Prescott‘s single-season school record for completions (316) and put him 7th in the school record books for single-season passing yards.

It would be by far the best year of Costello’s college career.

It it scientific? Not by any stretch. But just looking at those possibilities kind of makes your mouth water for what the Bulldogs could get out of their starting QB this season.