Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott ascends to the top of the Heisman race.
Did you see their faces? No, really, did you catch it? That moment when their expressions transformed from haughty amusement into astonished realization that Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is a Heisman frontrunner, ravaging crown jewels of the SEC kingdom in the process?
Laughing at a joke before hearing the punchline’s at your expense is rough, but then again, elitists are never known for a sense of humor. So when Mississippi State started a dark horse Heisman campaign for Prescott, and the local media and fans galvanized behind it, some were perhaps skeptical. We were, too.It didn’t seem likely, especially with a schedule including a triple-header of LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn followed later in the season with a game at Alabama. And that's not even mentioning the usually contentious and riotous Egg Bowl.
To consider Mississippi State and Dak Prescott plowing through that unharmed? Well that was the joke, you see. That’s what caused the chuckle from top SEC regimes and college football talking heads and lots, lots more.
Now we know better. Now we know just how legitimate Mississippi State is following emphatic wins against LSU and Texas A&M. While the Bulldogs are made in Mullen’s mold, it’s Prescott who’s the real leader, and not just in that typical quarterback type of way. He’s their identity, their rock, the type to remain calm amidst the pressurized pandemonium that is an SEC football game.
Understanding why Prescott is that way, particularly this season, all it takes is a glance at his wristbands. They have “MOM” and a symbol striking out cancer on them and Prescott has worn them since she passed last season battling colon cancer. She was his rock, his biggest fan, and Prescott heard the news standing in Mullen’s office, his coaches beside him.
He played against Texas A&M the following Saturday after hearing the news, and injured his elbow in a 51-41 loss. He returned to the field two games later and led MSU to wins against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and Rice in the Liberty Bowl, totaling six touchdowns and zero turnovers. If it's still unclear, this is one strong dude. Mentally, physically and emotionally.
Watching him stand behind center, Prescott’s figure looms like a miniaturized Hulk. He fires footballs like he’s hurling handballs with that top-heavy, upright release of his, but it’s alarmingly accurate. When he doesn’t throw, escaping the pocket as a true rushing threat in open field, he’s living theory of Newton’s law of inertia, typically bowling over two to three tacklers before tumbling down himself. Include his improved decision making and ability to read defenses, and it’s hard not to see what makes Prescott so effective this year.
His numbers may not pop like other frontrunners, averaging 335.6 yards total offense a game, but he’s top 10 nationally with a 10.1 yards-per-pass-attempt average. He doesn't (normally) make mistakes, throwing two interceptions this year but none when it mattered most against LSU and Texas A&M.Because of his dual-threat abilities, and since they both had Mullen as a coach, some have compared Prescott to Tim Tebow. It’s fun but derivative as Prescott plays pass-first and more likely to hand it off than Tebow. Plus, we like Prescott just the way he is (and that he has the possibility of being better than Tebow as a pro).
Prescott’s the steady tortoise in the hare race that often is early Heisman debate. If we ended the competition today, he’d be the winner. But it doesn't work that way and Mississippi State’s schedule remains a gauntlet. This week’s game against No. 2 Auburn should decide whether Prescott’s Heisman campaign and the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes will survive as legitimate within the national landscape. People are begging for an excuse to cast them off. Regardless, Prescott and MSU control their fate here. Winning out will ensure a spot in the CFP and indubitably give Prescott a Heisman trophy. If he doesn’t win sloughing through that schedule, that’d be a pretty lame joke.
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