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South Carolina 2016 opponent preview: Mississippi State enters life without Dak Prescott

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With one of the conference’s premier QBs gone, what’s next for the Bulldogs?

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

When you lose a quarterback with nearly 10,000 yards passing and over 2,500 yards rushing to his credit, the expectations aren’t as high going forward. Yet, that’s the situation Mississippi State finds itself in right now. You may be able to make the case that if Dak Prescott and company had played in the SEC East instead of the SEC West, they may have been able to run roughshod over the rest of the teams in their division.

Well, Dak’s graduated now. And with that reality facing the Bulldogs right now, we know that it’s highly doubtful that the next guy up under center, whether it’s Nick Fitzgerald, Damian Williams, Elijah Staley (no relation to Dawn) or Nick Tiano, is going to be as good as he was. There’s also no De’Runnya Wilson in the receiving game, which still might hold up (see below). Last year would have been a runaway for State against the Gamecocks. This year? Certainly winnable. Is that a sure thing? Well...maybe not.

Last year: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)

Best returning player(s): Fred Ross and Brandon Holloway

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Arkansas
Fred Ross (8) and Brandon Holloway (10) will be the key to any success Mississippi State has this season.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

While Ross was Prescott’s favorite target in 2015 - 88 catches (a program record), 1,007 yards, five touchdowns - don’t let those numbers deceive you into thinking that he was a great receiver (tops in the league in catches; 4th in the conference in receiving yards) and nothing more. Ross racked up 155 PR yards (eighth in the conference) on 17 attempts, averaging out to 9.12 yards per return, and ran one back for the first time in his career against Troy. He can also run the ball at times if you need him to. Holloway’s another do-it-all, versatile player: while the team will be leaning on him to run the ball more with Prescott having graduated (92 carries, 413 yards), he can also line up in at receiver (33 catches, 396 yards, 5 TDs) and established himself as one of the conference’s top kick returners (567 yards returning, 2nd in the SEC; 23.63 yards/return; 10th in the league). There’s no understating the importance of these two to this program, and while Ross suffered a groin injury that held him out for spring, Dan Mullen has mentioned that the senior will be full-go come fall.

Prognosis: The Bulldogs will miss Dak Prescott dearly and will certainly take a hit for that fact alone. With a completely unknown situation under center, it’s hard to get a good read on precisely how things will go in Starkville this year. I certainly wouldn’t expect another nine-win season, but with weapons like Ross, Holloway, and a couple of stud defenders in Richie Brown and A.J. Jefferson returning, along with the addition of one of the country's top DEs in Jeffrey Simmons (who probably shouldn't even be on the field, but that's a whole different story), five or six wins isn’t out of the question.