Without stepping on Rob Reiner’s toes, let’s just establish that Cam Newton is college football’s ghost of Mississippi.
If you believe Paul Finebaum and his army of bloviating listeners, Cecil Newton and his six-figure pay-for-play auction was the only obstacle that prevented Cam from transferring from Blinn College to Mississippi State in 2010.
Fresh off Dan Mullen’s inaugural five-win campaign against the nation’s most arduous schedule in 2009, Mississippi State would have seemed like an odd choice for a recruit of Newton’s stature if it weren’t for the presence of his former Gators offensive coordinator.
Nearly a year after Newton successfully conducted a snatch and grab of the Heisman and BCS national championship in one year on Auburn’s campus, the NCAA cleared Auburn of any wrongdoing.
If the unscrupulous Jackie Sherrill were in power, Newton probably would have spent his junior season in Starkville.
Mullen has run a clean program from all appearances which makes his success even more shocking.
Reportedly, Mississippi State’s coaches were made aware of a payment request and immediately rebuffed it.
As Auburn galloped unscathed through the SEC, Mississippi State alumni and boosters with alleged connections to Cecil began loosening their lips to sink Auburn’s run to the ‘chip.
Four years later, at a time when Heisman caliber student-athletes are losing their eligibility over $400 worth of autographs, a maroon and white clad Heisman Trophy candidate has appeared in corporeal form.
Mississippi State is No. 1 for the first time in school history, but Ole Miss, the more romanticized school of the two is replete with more five-star skill position players on both ends. Mississippi State has a compact hammer at running back who wasn't wanted by his homestate LSU Tigers, a former Mr. Alabama Basketball in in De'Runnya "Bear" Wilson as his top receiver, a flexible, opportunistic ballhawking defense that can be dig itself into hoels when risks don'twork out and their weekly savior, The Dak Knight.
Midway through his redshirt junior campaign, Dak Prescott has vaulted himself to the top of every Heisman leaderboard and has driven Mississippi State from the deserted land of the unranked to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll with the alacrity of Jason Statham steering an Audi down a six-lane highway
Aside from Jason White and Chris Weinke, Prescott is the most unlikely candidate in recent Heisman history because of his school affiliation and modest pedigree.
Three years ago, Prescott was a Mississippi State signee from northern Louisiana who was being pursued by LSU at the last second.
If he’d wound up at LSU, he probably would have wound up being aimlessly shuffled around to safety or tight end for four years. It’s the Les Miles way. Conversely, the 42-year-old Mullen’s history of developing quarterbacks is well-documented.
As quarterback coach, Mullen cultivated a system that made Josh Harris the kingpin of Bowling Green’ record book and No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith. Tim Tebow launched his name into the casual fan's football consciousness. Dakota Prescott has branded his name onto a litany of tongues.
Prescott, who takes direction from Tebow’s former offensive coordinator through two national championships, dons the No. 15 on the back of his broad-shouldered jersey, dives through would-be tacklers and possesses a predisposition for creating yards after contact.
Even the rosiest projections for Prescott’s first season as the full-time starter never anticipated a 2,000 yard (1,478 passing, 576 rushing) output at the season's mezzo.
Statistically, Prescott has matched the latter day 2007 Tebow model with 1,455 yards passing, 500 rushing and registered 22 paydirt deposits through six games. During Cam Newton’s Heisman campaign he’d thrown for 1,138 yards, rushed for 602 more and tallied 21 touchdowns (12 passing/9 rushing) at the midseason demarcation point.
Before this season, Wayne Madkins, who led Mississippi State to its only SEC West title and Tyler Russell were the white rabbits Prescott was chasing through Mississippi State record books. Wadkins remains the career passing yardage leader while Russell set a new single-season record. Russell also holds a fragile lead over Prescott for the career touchdown mark.
It may be another decade before Mississippi State attracts another recruit with Prescott’s physical and mental faculties or Mullen can opt to metamorphose Hail State into a permanent SEC monument.
Prescott is about to be the Mississippi State quarterback equivalent of the first family member to earn a college degree. No Mississippi State quarterback has ever played significant snaps behind center at the next level.
Reportedly, Prescott will leap to the pros if he receives a top-100 (third round or higher) grade from the NFL advisory board. While he’s not as physically imposing as Cam, he’s more athletic and precise as a passer at this stage in his development than Tebow.
Prescott rise has been meteoric and like most supernovas who witness their celebrity profiles explode he could disappear just as quickly. This is when the pitfalls begin separating Heisman contenders from pretenders, but if anybody can navigate the pitch black of this unexplored territory for the Mississippi State program, it's their Dak Knight.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND HEISMAN STATISTICS
Dak Prescott (QB, Mississippi State) – After three weeks of litmus tests against ranked foes, Mississippi State has the weekend off. As long as the Bulldogs are No. 1 and Prescott remains on this pace, he’s glued to the no. 1 spot in the Heisman ranking as well.
Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon) – After stabilizing himself in a bludgeoning of UCLA, Mariota should wear armor against Washington, which ranks third nationally in sacks. The most frightening thought for any quarterback is a team featuring not one, but two elite interior rushers.
Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin) – Running behind Wisconsin’s offensive line has been known to lower a running back’s Heisman vote count. However, Wisconsin’s quarterback situation is so dismal that recently Badger fans acknowledged that they’d rather have him start as quarterback than Tanner McEvoy or Joel Stave.
Everett Golson (QB, Notre Dame) – Golson has been golden for the Golden Domers in clutch situations. However, his nine turnovers in three weeks makes your skin turn green sometimes. If he can endure the FSU war chants, deafening crowd noise and play a pivotal role in toppling the defending national champions, he may begin pilfering votes from Prescott.
Rakeem Cato (QB, Marshall) – Halfway through the season, Marshall is not only undefeated, but they’re average margin of victory is over 30 points. Rakeem Cato has been the spark for the nation;s second-ranked scoring offense. Unfortunately, he’ll be hindered by the lack of attention the Thundering Herd receive as they roll through Conference USA competition.
DAK PRESCOTT IS THE QUARTERBACK DAN MULLEN BELIEVED JEFF DRISKEL WOULD BE
Dan Mullen may have dodged a bullet when he was skipped over for the Florida vacancy in late 2010. In a strange twist of fate, Foley reached across the aisle and tabbed a former UGA walk-on.
The quarterback class of 2011 is college football’s magnum opus of the 21st century. It’s got at least one Heisman Trophy, two of the 2014’s top contenders and possibly four finalists in total.
Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Braxton Miller, Brett Hundley, Jacoby Brissett, Marquise Williams, Marcus Mariota, Everett Golson, Trevone Boykin, Connor Cook, Kevin Hogan, Jake Coker, Justin Worley were all ranked ahead of three-star John Doe-Dak Prescott by sites such as Rivals.
Seriously, the wattage in retrospect is unparalleled. Go compare it to the 2010 class whose marquee quarterback prospects was Devin Gardner, Penn State's Robert Bolden, Mizzou's James Franklin and TCU safety Sam Carter.
Of the blue chip prospects, Driskel is the sore sight. Three years after his high school denouement, Prescott and Jeff Driskel are running perpendicular to one another.
At the time of his arrival on Florida’s campus in 2011, Driskel was the sans pareil prospect in a legendary class. The two ratings stars that separated them doesn’t emphasize the disparity in their projected potential well enough. Replace Driskel’s stars with supernovas and you’d have a more accurate description of the hoopla over his continuation of the Tim Tebow years.
Driskel’s name was stitched to Tebow when it rolled off the tongue of fans. As in, he was the five-star All-American who would not only reap the benefits of Urban Meyer’s spread blitzkrieg, but whose talent would echo into the NFL sector as well.
Instead of blessing Florida with ethereal talent and lifting the Gators back to the pinnacle, he’s been a bight upon the Florida offense.
Driskel and Prescott are still light years apart in talent, but the polarities been reversed.
Prescott looks like Tebow, plays like Tebow throws like Cam.
Mississippi State’s quarterback lineage before Prescott has been inconsequential. That hole is compounded by Ole Miss’ illustrious lineup of Eli and Archie Manning.
Even Southern Miss sired Brett Favre and Austin Davis.
Driskel is Florida’s phantom of the opera. Once he’s gone, they’ll dare not utter the name of the worst starting quarterback in program history.
Driskel’s pocket passing predecessor John Brantley was as conspicuously ill-suited for Urban Meyer’s ill-fighting spread option offense as Clint Eastwood catching the latest Madea film in a Bankhead theatre.
At times Driskel looks like he’s heaving boulders at over his shoulder and running with the lard of dejected fan expectations heaped onto his shoulders.
Now, a redshirt junior Driskel has regressed to a new nadir.
In the previous pro-style scheme, Driskel was asked to do the bare minimum as long as he protected the football like a Faberge egg.
Florida’s offense was ranked in the bottom of total offense rankings in 2011, but as long as he didn’t compromise their airtight defense, it was sufficient enough to grant Florida a Sugar Bowl berth against Louisville.
Last season, an injury ended Driskel’s season after two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Kurt Roper’s shotgun spread scheme was supposed to take advantage of Driskel’s dynamic athleticism. Unfortunately, the new scheme eschewed cautiousness for a more aggressive approach, exposing Driskel’s impuissant arm strength to salivating defenses.
Any discussion of Prescott and Driskel draws us back to the magnetic gifts of Mullen. If therre’s one upside to Driskel it’s that he is the impetus for Florida being in position to lure Mullen back at an auspicious time.
With Mullen's success comes the uncomfortable reality that unlike his nouveau riche program CEOs Hugh Freeze and Art Briles, he has few roots in the Magnolia State besides his current employer.
The post-Tebow era has been a famine even in comparison to Chris Leak through his junior season. The last time Florida went through an offensive drought of this magnitude during the final two pre-Spurrier years when Kyle Morris casually tossed 12 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Like Amber Rose, the Florida Gators may be back on the market soon leaving Mullen with a critical career decision to mull.
Can Mullen replicate top-10 rankings year in and year out or will the ebb and flow dry the Bulldogs well?
Had it not been for a sexual assault scare for backup Treon Harris, Driskel would be holding a clipboard and a headset this weekend.
Behind Harris, Rivals’ No. 3 dual threat quarterback in 2014, Florida is also redshirting Will Grier, the top-rated freshman not named Deshaun Watson.
If Driskel graduates and Prescott goes pro, Driskel can ply immediately and salvage his legacy somewhat in Starkville, where the bar is lower, but no matter what Mullen publicly says about Muschamp’s job security, that doesn’t sound nearly as attractive as what Florida can offer Mullen financially and professionally.
If Mississippi State wins a national championship, he’ll never buy another plate in the Delta again. However, Sherrill was only able to muster a .500 record in 13 seasons.
Once Florida comes calling, Mullen could become just another memory as the new ghost of Mississippi.