In terms of how tough he will be to replace, there might not be a bigger loss in the SEC than Dak Prescott.

Now a member of the Dallas Cowboys, his favorite team growing up in Louisiana, Prescott took Mississippi State to unprecedented heights in his two-plus years as the starting quarterback. He’s a Bulldogs legend.

On offense, Nick Fitzgerald seems to be the leader in the clubhouse of a four-arm race to succeed Prescott. Do-everything running back Brandon Holloway probably gets more chances as a featured ball carrier in 2016. Defensively, Richie Brown is the heart and soul at linebacker.

For coach Dan Mullen, who inherited a perennial cellar dweller from Sylvester Croom in 2009, this might be his hardest coaching job yet. This program never really had expectations before he got there. Now it does.

MSU was picked to finish last in the West at Media Days in July. Naturally, there’s nowhere to go but up.


SDS 2015 projection: 6-6 (2-6)
Actual record: 8-4* (4-4)

* doesn’t include postseason

Predicting every Mississippi State game:

Sept. 3 vs. South Alabama (W): There are a lot of big-time matchups in the SEC for Week 1. This, however, is not one of them. The Bulldogs should cruise to 1-0.

Sept. 10 vs. South Carolina (W): Like Mississippi State in the West, the Gamecocks are expected to bring up the rear this season in the East. But the West is still the best.

Sept. 17 at LSU (L): Even with Prescott, the Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker to the Tigers last season 21-19 in Starkville. Without him, their chances this season in Baton Rouge are quite slim.

Sept. 24 at Massachusetts (W): The first of two interesting road trips MSU takes this year outside of conference play, the Minutemen don’t feature a lot of SEC-level talent.

Oct. 8 vs. Auburn (L): While the Tigers are also unsettled at QB, at least they have a lot of blue-chip recruits at most of the other positions. The Bulldogs aren’t nearly as deep.

Oct. 14 at BYU (L): Not only is Provo more than 1,700 miles from Starkville, but having to play the Cougars on a Friday night means even less time to prepare for an unconventional opponent.

Oct. 22 at Kentucky (L): Considering the challenges he faces in basketball-centric Lexington, Mark Stoops has recruited well. With the talent about even, the ‘Cats win at home.

Oct. 29 vs. Samford (W): Following a three-game losing streak, Mississippi State is happy to see the arrival of a cupcake. Parents of second- and third-teamers rejoice in victory.

Nov. 5 vs. Texas A&M (L): If there is an under-the-radar team in the West that can make some noise this season, it’s the Aggies. Their D-line will dominate the Bulldogs up front.

Nov. 12 at Alabama (L): Prescott took his best shot at the Crimson Tide on multiple occasions and couldn’t get it done. MSU is on blowout alert in Tuscaloosa as ‘Bama makes it nine straight in the series.

Nov. 19 vs. Arkansas (L): Both the Bulldogs and Razorbacks are fighting to stay out of last place in the division at this point. The Hogs survive their defections a little better.

Nov. 26 at Ole Miss (L): This will be Chad Kelly’s final home game. The Egg Bowl always ratchets up the excitement in the Magnolia State. Expect him to have a big day.

SDS 2016 projection: 4-8 (1-7)
SEC Race: 7th in the West

The Skinny: This is why many wonder if Mullen is long for Mississippi State. He deserves a ton of credit for molding Prescott into Tim Tebow 2.0, despite having two fewer stars next to his name in high school. But if he can win big without him, he’s an even better coach. We’ll have to wait and see.

John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.