The Mississippi State football team doesn’t seem exceedingly shy to the notion of being pioneers for the school. After a great showing against the then-No. 2 team in the country — Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers — Saturday, Dan Mullen’s squad sits squarely in the driver’s seat. Both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls dubbed the Bulldogs the nation’s best team Sunday, which coincidentally was the first time in the program’s history that it had achieved the top ranking. For a team that has a sub-.500 all-time record, one division title and two consensus all-Americans ever — this is plainly uncharted territory.
Perhaps you’ve heard of junior quarterback Dak Prescott, the front-runner for the Heisman six weeks into the season. Despite not having a strong outing against Auburn, he’s led the Bulldogs to three consecutive wins over top 10 teams, on the back of four 100-yard ground games, is the only player since 2000 to have four games with more than 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing through the season’s first six games, and is one of five players since 2000 to start the season with six straight games posting a passer efficiency rating above 110 — given that the player attempted more than 20 passes and eight rushing attempts in each game. He also ranks fifth in total quarterback rating, for those exclusively interested in real-time relevance.
Prescott had the luxury of watching a top Heisman contender be suspended for the second time this season. Jameis Winston and Todd Gurley have glaring question marks attached to their cases for the award and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota already has a home loss on his record this season. The race has thinned following Ameer Abdullah’s rough outing against Michigan State (24 carries, 45 yards) and appears to be Prescott’s to lose. He ranks ninth nationally in total offense (342.3 yards per game), his per-play average of 7.84 yards is third-highest among players with at least 250 plays and he’s tied for the national lead in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
After Saturday, Prescott became one of just four quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference in the past 10 seasons to have 1,000 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in the first six games. The other three won the Heisman.
His seasonal stat line looks a lot like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota:
But though the numbers are comparable, consider the teams the two have been competing against:
Mariota: Opponents’ combined record — 21-16, two ranked opponents (Michigan State, UCLA).
Prescott: Opponents’ combined record — 24-13, three ranked opponents (LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn).
Prescott could be the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner, but the Bulldogs still have games left on the road against Alabama and Ole Miss.
No Bulldogs quarterback has ever passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season. Prescott might. Does he have what it takes to produce a magical season for a program that hasn’t produced a winning conference record this century? The ways things are going in Starkville, he already has.
Josh Planos has had his work featured at the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Rivals, Denver Post, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. He currently writes for Wall Street Journal Sports, the ESPN TrueHoop Network and The Cauldron. He loves interacting with readers via Twitter (@JPlanos).