The 2014 season was a year of benchmarks for the Mississippi State football program.

The Bulldogs won 10 games for only the third time in 75 years, and they earned the first No. 1 ranking in school history. Dak Presott was named first-team all-SEC at quarterback, and the five Bulldogs drafted in the most recent NFL draft set a new high-water mark for the program in the 2000s.

Unfortunately, nothing lasts in college football, and Mississippi State learned that lesson this offseason as it bid farewell to 15 starters on both sides of the ball. Prescott is back, as is top wideout De’Runnya Wilson and former five-star defensive tackle Chris Jones, but MSU will have to rely on new faces at seemingly every other position this fall.

So why should we believe that 2014’s unprecedented success wasn’t just a flash in the pan? What reason has Mississippi State given us to think it can plug in more or less a brand new lineup and not regress in the toughest division in college football history?

Well, I hate to break it to the Bulldog fans reading this piece, but MSU is not going to be as good this year as it was last year, even with Prescott still commanding the offense. The fifth-year senior is determined to add another run at an SEC title to his illustrious MSU legacy, and he’s angry at how many people (myself included) think that’s merely a dream and a wish.

“Everybody on this team and this coaching staff has a big chip on their shoulder about that,” Prescott told Tony Barnhart regarding how quickly most have brushed off MSU as contenders this offseason. “I didn’t come to Mississippi State to have one big year. I came to compete for championships and win them. I didn’t come here to lead this team to No. 1 for a few weeks and then leave. We have a lot of really good players in this program.”

For what it’s worth, in 82 seasons of SEC football, Mississippi State, an original SEC member, has won just one SEC title on the gridiron, and that was in 1941. The Bulldogs have never won a football national championship. There’s not much title-winning precedent set in Starkville.

So while Prescott’s approach to his senior season — a season he volunteered for instead of leaving school for the NFL — is admirable, it is also flawed.

Mississippi State may regress this season, but it’s what Prescott and his teammates did last year that may help MSU return to the national rankings on a regular basis in 2016 and beyond.

Prescott will be gone by then, but if you watched any footage or read any reports on redshirt freshman backup Nick Fitzgerald this spring, you’d know the position is in good hands once Prescott exits the program.

Mississippi State proved last year that it has a competent coach, a loyal fan base, a renovated stadium, plenty of SEC money and even more high-profile competition in the nation’s most polarizing conference. Last year, Mississippi State proved it has all the makings of a winning program, and the nation took notice.

Prescott played a huge role in that transformation. It’s unfair to expect MSU will simply maintain its success from a year ago with less talent and an even less experience. Heck, even schools like LSU and South Carolina — schools that have won 10 games with regularity in recent memory — dipped for a year after massive roster turnover, especially in the form of NFL draftees. It’s not that MSU would be returning to its former ways; it’d simply be following the normal ebb-and-flow of SEC football.

Players like this year’s draftees, as well as Prescott, Wilson and Jones, proved that superstars can indeed thrive at Mississippi State. Last year’s team proved that no matter where you go, attention will come if you win.

The prior knocks on MSU’s program — the lack of history, the location in small-town Mississippi, the overwhelming in-conference competition — are now tokens used to attract top talent. And the top talent is finally ready to listen now that MSU has won 10 games, played in a New Year’s Eve bowl game and been featured in ranked, nationally televised matchups on a near-weekly basis.

That talent isn’t quite all in place yet after last year’s mass departure of talent, and while Prescott will likely ensure MSU gets at least as far as a decent bowl game this fall, it’s asking a lot for him to contend for 10 wins again in the West. But beginning in 2016 and extending indefinitely into the future, Mississippi State will use its 2014 season to become a regular contender in the SEC, just as South Carolina did in the early 2000s with Lou Holtz and then Steve Spurrier.

No, Mississippi State’s 2014 season was not a flash in the pan. But don’t get ahead of yourselves, Bulldog fans. This year won’t be like last year. Enjoy Prescott’s dazzling play, but brace yourself for seven or eight wins; it might be your last mediocre season for a while.