(AP) He was a Heisman Trophy candidate last year.
So it should be no surprise when Mississippi State took the field Saturday for it annual spring game, Dak Prescott would look the part.
Prescott is doing nothing to temper the massive expectations for his final college season.
The Mississippi State quarterback completed 20 of 29 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns Saturday during the Bulldogs’ spring game, spreading the ball around the field with the poise expected from a senior who’s already among the school’s leaders in just about every passing category.
Now Mississippi State is trying to make sure the rest of the roster is capable of supporting him.
The early returns look promising: De’Runnya Wilson caught five passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, and the Bulldogs’ rebuilt offensive line — which will have at least three new starters next season — usually gave the quarterbacks enough time to read the field and make throws.
That’s good news for a program trying to improve on a breakout season that included a 10-3 record and five weeks as the top-ranked team in the country.
“The expectations around the program are very, very high,” coach Dan Mullen said. “This team expects to compete for an SEC championship. There’s not a guy in the program who doesn’t think that’s going to happen.”
Prescott is a major reason for that confidence.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender midway through last season before fading down the stretch. He threw for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns while also running for 986 yards and 14 TDs.
He considered turning professional before returning to Starkville for his senior season. He’ll be guiding a fairly inexperienced team that lost several key players on both sides of the ball.
“I came in each and every day (this spring) with the mindset to get better and make sure I allowed our team the chance to get better and reach their potential,” Prescott said.
RESTOCKING THE DEFENSE: Mississippi State lost a few of its best defensive players, including linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive end Preston Smith, who expect to hear their name called later this month in the NFL draft.
But the Bulldogs do bring back several experienced players. They’ll just be counted on to have a bigger role.
Defensive lineman A.J. Jefferson, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound junior, is one. He might have had the most impressive play of Saturday, running over an offensive lineman before tackling running back Dontavian Lee in the backfield.
QB OF THE FUTURE?: Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had a good day Saturday, completing 20 of 30 passes for 255 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The redshirt freshman is battling Damian Williams for the No. 2 job next season. Williams was limited throughout most of spring practice because of injuries and didn’t play Saturday.
RUNNING BACK RACE: Mississippi State has several candidates to replace Josh Robinson at running back. Robinson left school a year early after running for a team-high 1,203 yards last season.
Lee led the Bulldogs with 53 yards rushing Saturday. Aeris Williams added 31 yards while Ashton Shumpert had 14.
DIXON CATCHES THE TD: In what has become a spring game tradition, former Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon ran onto the field in the second half and caught a 59-yard touchdown pass from Fitzgerald.
Dixon played at Mississippi State from 2006-09, running for nearly 4,000 career yards. He’s entering his sixth year in the NFL and now plays for the Buffalo Bills.