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VOL. 129 | NO. 154 | Friday, August 8, 2014
Don Wade

Don Wade

The Press Box: Mississippi State, Prescott Set High Expectations

By Don Wade

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Confidence does not always take the predictable path.

The 2013 Mississippi State Bulldogs were heartbroken over the one that got away at Auburn, and reveled in the one that didn’t in the Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss in Starkville.

In the end, Mississippi State had a 7-6 season that included its 44-7 beatdown of Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. But neither that game nor the 17-10 overtime victory over the archrival Rebels offered up the promise that the 24-20 loss at Auburn on Sept. 14 did.

The Auburn game was there for the taking, recall, until Nick Marshall tossed an 11-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass. The Tigers broke a 10-game SEC losing streak, went on to win the SEC title, and then played for the national championship.

Nobody saw it coming, which means the Bulldogs had done more than we realized – more than they realized – in the moment.

“We were one play away from beating the SEC champions. A loss can sometimes give you confidence,” said quarterback Dak Prescott, who passed for 213 yards and rushed for 133 yards against Auburn. “So we look back on that and know what we can do this year.”

It is at least a good theory, isn’t it?

Dan Mullen starts his sixth season as coach at MSU and he has a four-year streak of going to bowl games. The last time that happened in Starkville was, actually, never. Jackie Sherrill took the Bullies to three straight bowl games and they even made it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game in 1998.

Sixteen years later, Mullen is not in the business of backing down from the loftiest of expectations – whether they’re rooted in reality or not.

“Our expectations are to find a way to get to Atlanta,” Mullen said. “That’s what we can control and compete for – that SEC championship this year.”

A team is much more than its quarterback, though you’d never know it by the Johnny Manziel years at Texas A&M or the Tim Tebow years at Florida. So MSU’s fortunes do not rest entirely on Prescott’s shoulders.

And yet he is undeniably the face of the team this season and the one who has made at least one Las Vegas bookmaker’s board as a 50-1 shot to win the Heisman Trophy.

“I know the guy I am and I will stick to that,” Prescott said when asked about his newfound status, which included being the SEC’s preseason second-team pick at QB behind Marshall and ahead of third-team choice Bo Wallace of Ole Miss.

Questions, however, remain. Namely, can Prescott do more as a passer? Can he do enough for MSU to be special? Can he do enough for cowbells to echo throughout the Georgia Dome?

Last season, he threw for 1,940 yards with 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He also averaged 6.2 yards per rush and finished with 829 yards carrying the football and 13 TDs.

Skeptics still view him as a runner who throws the football as a change of pace. Sound familiar?

“People are gonna think what they want no matter what I do,” Prescott said, adding that his footwork in the pocket is improved.

Skeptics will also think what they want about this team, especially given a schedule that includes having to play LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss on the road. It’s not that the Bulldogs can’t go to a fifth straight bowl game – they should – but going to Atlanta on business is a whole other agenda.

“There’s expectations outside of the room, but we have expectations within (the team),” Prescott said. “Those expectations, I believe, are a lot higher than anybody else’s.”

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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