Mississippi State Football: Does Blake Shapen Take Control of Spring Quarterback Battle?

What does Mississippi State football's 2024 quarterback room look like in the spring?

Nov 18, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Blake Shapen (12) in action during
Nov 18, 2023; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Blake Shapen (12) in action during / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With the Maroon and White Spring Game just a few weeks away, it's time to take a closer look at the 2024 Mississippi State football team. With a new coaching staff led by head coach Jeff Lebby and plenty of roster overturn from 2023, this will be a new look team in Starkville, and we want to get more familiar with them.

What does the spring roster look like? Who are the leaders and newcomers in each position group? What are battles to watch? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the team as it stands currently?

Over the next few weeks we'll break down each position group and how things stand with them in the spring. Today we start with the most important position on the field, quarterback.

Baylor-transfer Blake Shapen is the front-runner to win the Mississippi State quarterback job

There was little doubt that Mississippi State would be in the transfer market for a quarterback in 2024, and Jeff Lebby landed former Baylor Bear Blake Shapen to fill that need.

Shapen comes to Starkville after starting 23 games over three seasons in Waco with 5574 passing yards and 36 touchdowns. He possesses many of the qualities that Lebby looks for from a QB in his offense with a quick release, a strong arm, and good mobility.

Shapen has the most starting experience of any of State's QBs and has shown the ability to play at a high level throughout his career. There's no question that he was brought in to be the Bulldogs' starting QB in 2024.

However, Shapen doesn't have a leg-up on the other QBs in terms of experience within Lebby's offense or a similar one. He ran a pro-style system at Baylor that was drastically different than what he'll be asked to do at State. Though he should easily win the starting job in theory, if he finds the transition to a wide-open spread attack to be difficult, that could open the door for someone else to challenge him.

State brings back two quarterbacks who started for the Bulldogs in 2023

Two quarterbacks return for Mississippi State that saw significant snaps last season: fifth-year senior Mike Wright and redshirt freshman Chris Parson.

Wright is a former Vanderbilt-transfer who came to State last season to give MSU an experienced backup behind Will Rogers. Wright's an incredible athlete who was used as a wildcat QB during the 2023 season and started three games while Rogers was injured. He's got true breakaway speed but has clear limitations as a passer.

A true freshman in 2023, Parson found himself thrown into the fire last season with a road start at Texas A&M. Things didn't go well on that night, but nothing did for the Bulldogs in that game. He's still a very talented player who could fit the offense well with a good arm and strong mobility. Plus, the late, great Mike Leach thought very highly of him, and I'd take that as a good sign.

Could either of these guys be QB2? Parson fits that mold more but lacks the experience. Wright is a good enough athlete to warrant usage but probably isn't a strong enough passer to be the clear option after Shapen.

Could a true freshman factor-in?

It didn't take long after being hired for Jeff Lebby to land his supposed QB of the future. Michael Van Buren, a 4-star prospect out of Baltimore, committed to Lebby and the Bulldogs in early December after decommitting from Oregon.

Van Buren had been Lebby's preferred QB target in the class of 2024, but given the crowded QB room at Oklahoma, Van Buren chose to commit to the Ducks. It was not long after Lebby was announced as MSU's new HC that Van Buren reopened his recruitment, and he ultimately chose to play for State.

Van Buren is another QB that fits a lot of the traits Lebby looks for in a signal-caller. But can he come in and grab the QB2 job or perhaps even challenge Shapen? He enrolled early, so we'll get a glimpse of his potential this spring.

Mississippi State football needs Blake Shapen to separate in the spring

Though it's technically an open competition and there's a world where the offensive transition doesn't suit him, it'd be shocking if Blake Shapen doesn't win the starting job for Mississippi State. He was specifically brought-in to serve as a veteran bridge QB for Jeff Lebby as he establishes the foundation for the program in year one.

The best thing that can happen for State is for Shapen to grab the reins of the competition this spring and clearly separate from the rest of the pack. You don't want QB to be unsettled entering the fall when you've got a brand new offense to break-in. If Shapen can clearly cement himself as the starter, all of the focus in fall camp can be in building around him.

The race for QB2 will be interesting to watch though. Parson and Van Buren have plenty of similarities to their game. Parson has the extra year of experience, but Van Buren is clearly Lebby's guy. It's likely to be tight between those two in the pecking order.

And how does Mike Wright factor-in? Does his experience alone keep him ahead of the young guys and/or does he refine his passing enough to be the clear backup? And does Jeff Lebby put together a package to work him into the offense similarly to how he was used last season?

Overall, this looks to be a good group. Shapen has proven to be a quality starter in major college football. Parson and Van Buren are both talented players with high ceilings. And Mike Wright can make an impact as a dynamic play-maker who also has starting SEC experience.

Of course, given the nature of college football today, there's no guarantee all four of these players are still on the roster come fall. But at least for the spring, we'll be keeping a close eye on the QBs and whether or not their roles become defined in the spring game.