NCF Nation: Mississippi State Bulldogs

SEC lunchtime links

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
12:00
PM ET
Between Steve Spurrier taking jabs at Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban opening up about where his dance moves originated, Tuesday was quite a day on ESPN's "Car Wash." At one point, the two shared the desk on "College Football Live."

 

The coaches have all returned to their schools, and fall camp is just around the corner. Be sure to read Wednesday's lunch links for the latest news and notes around the SEC.

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET)

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
8:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-5 p.m. ET)

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
10:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
HOOVER, Ala. -- In between debating the worst dressers on the team and picking out potential lunch options for later that afternoon, Dan Mullen turned to his quarterback to ask how he was feeling. “Are you nervous?” he said to Dak Prescott as the two flew from Starkville, Mississippi, to Hoover for SEC media days. He was about to face hundreds of reporters, so the pressure would be on. But Prescott told his coach, “I think I should be, but I’m not.”

Mullen had to smile. That kind of poise was a good sign for his Mississippi State Bulldogs. It was exactly what he wanted to hear from a guy who has gone from an unknown second-stringer to the most recognizable name and face of a program in less than a year. His leader seemed ready to handle his first major responsibility of 2014.

And handle it he did.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyDak Prescott sounds comfortable and confident after finishing last season with a flourish.
Prescott didn’t act like a quarterback who a year earlier wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Instead he showed the confidence of a veteran handling the media: chin up, strong eye contact, ever sincere. He welcomed expectations and was even glad to critique his own play.

“I was kind of wanting to run sometimes,” he said. “I would step back and throw and my feet wouldn’t be where they need to be. But I believe when I have my feet underneath me I can make all the throws.”

Prescott got a taste of the spotlight late last season when he led State to wins over Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and against Rice in the Liberty Bowl, accounting for six touchdowns and no turnovers in the process. Now he’s being hailed as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate -- which would be an accurate term only if you ignore the notion that one must be unknown to be a dark horse.

You’d have to ignore the horde of reporters trying to speak with him at media days, too.

“I know who I am deep down,” Prescott said. “It hasn’t changed no matter what I’m doing, if it’s media days or back at the facilities. Nothing has really changed.”

Mullen credits that confidence to the way last season unfolded. Because he got to dip his toe in the water as a backup-turned-starter, Prescott is more comfortable handling the role of incumbent.

“Because of injuries last year, he got to step into the top role without any of the pressure,” Mullen said of his redshirt junior. “He just went out there and started playing. I think the fact that he got that part done first before the buildup made everything a lot easier for him.

“He’s played on the road in tough environments. He’s had to come in and win critical games. He’s had good games and bad games already. Now as he comes in with the pressure of, ‘Hey, you’re the starting quarterback this season,’ he’s been in a lot of pressure situations already.”

Seeing their quarterback handle so much by this point has been a good sign for teammates, too.

“He inspires me to be a better leader,” veteran linebacker Benardrick McKinney said. “We compete every day. Sometimes I feel down and don’t feel like going, and I see Dak leading the offense, inspiring me to push the defense harder.

“He’s a very, very humble guy. He doesn’t really go for the hype. He’s going to keep fighting and not worry about what people say.”

But what people were saying of Prescott on Tuesday was all positive. If he wanted to show he could handle the pressure, he did. Delivering quotes like the SEC West is “second only to the NFC and AFC” earned him credit with everyone in the room.

He should have been anxious, but Prescott didn’t look it. He should have been worried about living up to the hype, but he seemed totally at ease.

Where some might see being the voice of a team as a burden, he got his feet underneath him and delivered.

“It makes it easier when the voice of the team is the quarterback, the guy who has to take all the snaps and has the ball in his hands every play," Prescott said. "So I’m embracing that role and accepting it.”

SEC Media Days Live (10 a.m.-5 p.m. ET)

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
10:00
AM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
The opening of SEC media days isn't the only news of the day. Two more college football award watch lists debuted Monday, and the SEC is a major player on both.

Thirteen of the 123 watch list honorees for the Lombardi Award, which is given annually to the top lineman or linebacker, are from the conference. Likewise, nine of the 51 nominees for the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker, are SEC players.

Here are the full lists of SEC nominees:

Lombardi
G A.J. Cann, South Carolina
OT La'el Collins, LSU
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
OG Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DT Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

Butkus
Trey DePriest, Alabama
Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Kris Frost
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Braylon Mitchell, Arkansas
Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Ramik Wilson, Georgia

SEC Media Days Live (12-7 p.m. ET)

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
12:23
PM ET
It's the unofficial start of college football season as media events kick off with the biggest one of all, the four-day SEC circus in Hoover, Alabama. Keep this page open throughout today's proceedings as we bring you all of the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
HOOVER, Ala. -- Welcome to SEC media days!

It didn't seem as if we'd ever get here, but in a couple of hours, the inside of the Wynfrey Hotel will be transformed into a circus. The arrival of SEC media days brings us ever closer to the start of the 2014 season. Remember, this is the first season in which we'll be seeing an actual playoff end the season. That right there might be too much to digest.

But before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the season, we're turning our attention to SEC media days. It's where you can have 1,000 media members all together -- along with a lobby jam-packed with ravenous fans (usually Alabama ones) -- crowding around kids and coaches.

It really is a beautiful thing, and here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in Hoover:

1. Life without Marshall: Monday was supposed to be a chance for Auburn to truly introduce quarterback Nick Marshall to the world. Sure, we've all seen what he can do with a football in his hand, but this was where we were supposed to hear Auburn's quarterback talk about all he does with a football. After all, Marshall could be a Heisman Trophy candidate this fall. But after Marshall was cited for possession of a small amount of marijuana Friday, he's out for media days. Tight end C.J. Uzomah will take his place. Marshall should be here to own up to his mistake. He should be here to take responsibility, but he isn't. Now his coach and teammates have to do that.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama may be picked for the fourth time in five years to win the SEC.
2. Bama talk: For the first time since the 2011 SEC media days, Alabama did not arrive as the defending national champs. The Crimson Tide didn't even make it to the SEC title game. But that won't matter. Alabama still will steal the show. Everyone is here to see coach Nick Saban and ask questions about why Alabama couldn't get it done last season. We'll hear questions about the present and future for Alabama. And with so much talent returning, Alabama will likely be picked to win the SEC for the fourth time in five years.

3. Mason's debut: Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is headed to the big leagues, but his first official stop as the man in charge of the Commodores is in Hoover. This ain't Stanford, and it definitely isn't the Pac-12. He'll meet a throng of media members inside a gigantic ballroom. He'll be bombarded with questions about replacing James Franklin, and we'll all wonder if he has what it takes to keep Vandy relevant. Will he wow us during his introductory news conference? Or will he take the businesslike approach and just try to get through such a long day?

4. Muschamp's hot seat: After a 4-8 season that saw an anemic offense and a loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp is feeling the heat under his seat. While he has been very collected about the pressure he should be feeling, he knows that this is the most important season of his tenure. To be fair, Florida dealt with an unfair amount of important injuries, but that means nothing now. Muschamp has yet to take Florida back to the SEC title and is 0-3 against archrival Georgia. Muschamp knows he has to win, and he and his players will be grilled about it all day today.

5. Sumlin dealing with distractions: Johnny Manziel might be gone, but Texas A&M is still dealing with distractions away from the football. Before Kevin Sumlin could even get to media days, he had to dismiss two of his best defensive players in linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden, who were arrested on charges of aggravated robbery earlier this year. One of his quarterbacks -- Kenny Hill -- also was arrested in March on a public intoxication charge. Once again, Sumlin will have to talk about more than just football this week.

[+] EnlargeMaty Mauk
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri's Maty Mauk threw for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in place of the injured James Franklin.
6. Quarterback composure: A lot of talented quarterbacks left this league after last season, but we'll get our fill this week. Marshall might be absent, but we'll hear from Jeff Driskel, Dak Prescott, Dylan Thompson, Bo Wallace and Maty Mauk. All these guys could have big seasons and will be crucial to their respective teams' success. Can Florida's Driskel rebound after his early, season-ending injury? Is Thompson ready to replace Connor Shaw at South Carolina? Can Wallace of Ole Miss finally find some consistency? And can Prescott (Mississippi State) and Mauk (Missouri) prove their 2013 success wasn't just a flash in the pan?

7. Mauk's composure: Speaking of Missouri's quarterback, he's an incredibly interesting character to watch. He went 3-1 as a starter in place of the injured James Franklin last season, and has the right attitude and moxie that you want in a quarterback. Is he ready to be the guy full time? Is he ready to lead without a stud like Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to or Franklin to help him? A lot of veteran leadership is gone, so all eyes are on Mauk. He's also a very confident person who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Let's hope he's on his game.

8. Players and the playoff: This is the first season of the College Football Playoff, and we've received just about everyone's opinion on the matter. Well, almost. We haven't heard much from the people who might be playing in it. What do players think about it? Are there too many games now? Not enough? Do they care about the bowl experience? Do they even care about the playoff?

9. What do players think about getting paid? With the Power Five a real thing and autonomy becoming more of a reality, what do the players think about it all? What are their thoughts on the prospect of getting some sort of compensation from their schools? Are they getting enough now? How much is enough?

10. What will Spurrier say? Need I say more? We all want to know what Steve Spurrier will say. Will he take shots at Georgia or Saban? Will Dabo Swinney come up? Will another coach be a target? Who knows, and who cares? We just want him to deliver some patented Spurrier gold!
Just when you thought you'd seen everything on social media, the athletic directors from Kansas State and Mississippi State took things to a different level Friday.

K-State's John Currie and Mississippi State's Scott Stricklin apparently agreed to a home-and-home series on Twitter. The two ADs went back and forth before agreeing to a deal. Obviously it is a tenative plan, but it came together in a matter of hours.

If only LeBron had accomplished things this quickly.

It all began when Currie invited Stricklin to bring his team to play some football at Bill Snyder Family Stadium:

Stricklin responds with suggested years for the series: Currie's response: Deal done.  

Five SEC players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
On Thursday, we examined five individuals who could be potential SEC "villains" in 2014. And while some people love to be "haters" let's be real, most of us like to feel good about who we root for. If you feel like the player you like is also generally a good guy off the field and does the right things, it makes you feel that much better when he scores a touchdown or makes a big tackle on Saturdays.

With that in mind, let's keep it positive today and discuss five guys that are worth rooting for this season, in alphabetical order:

Luke Boyd, LSU: Boyd's name might not be one known to SEC fans but he has quite a story. The 27-year-old walk-on is an active-duty Marine who served the last five years, including six months in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, he was promoted to staff sergeant. He walked on with the Tigers last season and dressed for home games and hopes to find his way onto the field as a special-teams contributor this season. Another interesting nugget: He was a guest at the 2012 NFL draft where, in full uniform, he announced the Seattle Seahawks' third-round pick -- Russell Wilson.

Shon Coleman, Auburn: Former Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, leaves some big shoes to fill. Coleman, who was his backup at left tackle last season, is a candidate to replace Robinson and what a story it would be if he does so. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Coleman was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in spring of 2010 shortly after he signed with the Tigers out of high school. He was able to overcome that and saw his first collegiate action last season. To get to that point is impressive, to finish it off by becoming a starter this year would be a storybook-like development.

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: He's only a sophomore, but he is the model physically (5-foot-11, 194 pounds) and athletically when it comes to playing cornerback and is already the conference's best at the position. He has the right stuff mentally to be the heartbeat of that Florida defense. A third-team Associated Press All-American last year, Hargreaves is also one of the nicest guys you'll meet, a coach's kid who is incredibly humble.

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Prescott is already a talented quarterback who emerged into a real playmaker for the Bulldogs last season. He's a true leader and played through injuries last season and more importantly, the death of his mother, Peggy, who lost her life at 52 after a long bout with colon cancer. He returned to practice shortly after his mother's burial and played later that week against Texas A&M and compiled 303 offensive yards (154 rushing; 149 passing) and two touchdowns in a 51-41 loss. His toughness, both physical and mental, is one of his best qualities.

Deterrian Shackelford, Ole Miss: A rare sixth-year senior, Shackelford missed two whole seasons after an ACL injury that was worse than initially thought when he suffered it in 2011. After missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he returned last season to play every game at linebacker and finished seventh on the team with 44 tackles and fourth on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. He is in the mix to be a starter for the Rebels at linebacker this season and one of the most respected players on the team. After football, he said he wants to be an athletic director or high school principal to positively impact teenagers.
The annual SEC media days begin Monday, which means we are in for another preseason circus in Hoover, Alabama.

It also means we are that much closer to the start of fall camp and the college football season. I wonder if any fan base will dwarf the Alabama fans who will be lined up inside the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel. Probably not. That's Tide turf, and everyone knows it.

Media days run from July 14 to 17. The SEC's official website, ESPN, ESPNU and WatchESPN will have continuous coverage of all the festivities.

MONDAY

Session I: Noon-3:30 p.m. ET

Commissioner Mike Slive

Auburn
Session II: 3:40-6:40 p.m. ET

Florida
Vanderbilt
TUESDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

South Carolina
Mississippi State
Session II: 2-5 p.m. ET

Texas A&M
Tennessee
WEDNESDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

Steve Shaw (SEC coordinator of officials)/Justin Connolly (ESPN senior vice president of college networks)

Missouri
Session II: 2-5 p.m. ET

LSU
Arkansas
THURSDAY

Session I: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET

Georgia
Ole Miss
Session II: 1-4 p.m. ET

Alabama
Kentucky
If the SEC has plenty of one thing, it's athletes.

Every year we see running backs and wide receivers that can make one move and go the distance. They're explosive in every sense of the word. They're quick, fast and utterly elusive.

In 2013, Henry Josey and Tre Mason were home run hitters at running back. Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews routinely burned defenses deep at receiver. Heck, who can forget Johnny Manziel's big-play antics at quarterback?

But all of those playmakers have moved on. Now it's time for a new group of explosive athletes to emerge on offense in the SEC.

Here's a rundown of each team's most dangerous weapons:
  • Alabama: A talented return man, Christion Jones knows how to operate in space and break free from the defense. Amari Cooper, meanwhile, has the feet of a ballerina and can dance away from coverage just as well -- or run right by it. After experiencing a down sophomore year due to injury, he should return to his freshman form where he had 19 receptions for 20 yards or more. And don’t lose sight of Kenyan Drake while you’re at it. Even on limited carries last season he had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards.
  • Auburn: Speed is in ample supply at Auburn, from quarterback to receiver to running back. Nick Marshall’s agility and big-play ability under center speaks for itself. Meanwhile, Sammie Coates has some of the best straight-line speed you’ll find in the country. And, finally, running back Corey Grant is one of the league’s all-time burners, having reportedly clocked a sub-4.2 second 40-yard dash. He had 29 rushes of 10 or more yards last season and averaged a whopping 9.8 yards per carry.
  • Arkansas: Bret Bielema needs some help at receiver. Sure, Keon Hatcher (12.8 yards per catch) showed some promise late and the return of Demetrius Wilson from injury is reason for hope. But ultimately the real big-play ability on offense comes from the running backs. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 56 rushes for 10 or more yards last season -- a number that would have tied for third nationally behind Jordan Lynch (64) and Taysom Hill (60).
  • Florida: Andre Debose, when healthy, is an athlete with world-class speed. After all, he was a state track champion in high school, running the 100-meter dash in 10.68 seconds. It’s part of why he already holds the school record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns -- a record tied for tops in SEC history with Willie Gault, Felix Jones and Brandon Boykin. How's that for good company? With two major injuries hopefully now in his past, Debose is a threat to score at both receiver and in the return game.
  • Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell will be a welcome return at receiver after missing all but one game last season with a torn ACL. When he was healthy, he was able to run in the neighborhood of a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. He and Chris Conley, who led the team in receiving yards last year, can stress any secondary. That’s not to mention Justin Scott-Wesley, who was a state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dash in high school.
  • Kentucky: You should know Javess Blue's name, but chances are that many of you probably don’t. Unfortunately his work at receiver flew mostly under the radar at Kentucky in 2013. His five catches of 20-plus yards may not sound overwhelming, but you have to remember he did that without much help from his quarterbacks. Still, Blue is a burner to the tune of a 4.29 second 40-yard dash.
  • LSU: Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. will be missed. But coach Les Miles wasn’t left lacking for playmakers on offense when they went on to the NFL. Terrence Magee was quietly one of the most explosive backs in the league last season with 10 rushes for 20 or more yards. Even so, No. 1 overall recruit Leonard Fournette might overshadow him. Fournette is not just big and strong, he’s also fast. (Think of a young Adrian Peterson). And while we’re talking true freshmen, Malachi Dupre has the chance to make an immediate impact at receiver. The former five-star prospect runs in the 4.5-second 40-yard dash range, and has impressive size and a vertical to match.
  • Mississippi State: It’s a make or break year for Mississippi State’s offense. In the past coach Dan Mullen has struggled to find playmakers. Now he has three guys who can really spread out a defense. Jameon Lewis, who has the tools of a poor man’s Percy Harvin, is a great underneath receiver, and Brandon Holloway, who can play either running back or receiver, is lightning quick and deadly in space. With De’Runnya Wilson standing at 6-foot-5 with the leaping ability of a true basketball player (he's a forward for the Bulldogs, in case you didn't know), Mullen’s offense should be able to attack every level of the secondary.
  • Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel lost a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball this offseason. But even with Dorial Green-Beckham and LaDamian Washington no longer in Columbia, there are still plenty of dangerous weapons on offense. Russell Hansbrough is a talented back who had 20 rushes for 10 or more yards in 2013. Then factor in Bud Sasser (13.88 yards per play) and Marcus Murphy (17 career touchdowns four different ways: rushing, kickoff return, punt return and receiving), and the Tiger offense should be able to stretch the field just fine.
  • Ole Miss: By now you ought to know about Laquon Treadwell, who finished second only to Jordan Matthews in the SEC in total receptions last season (72). He became the first player in school history to be named SEC Freshman of the Year by the league coaches. Though he may lack elite top-end speed, he more than makes up for it with his elusiveness and ability to make yards after the catch. And don’t sleep on running back Jaylen Walton. In addition to being the team's primary kick returner, he also rushed for 523 yards last season. His 29 receptions were fourth on the team and he led all Rebs with eight total touchdowns.
  • South Carolina: Dylan Thompson may not have a lot of height at receiver, but he’s got plenty of speed. Shaq Roland is an All-SEC type of talent, if he can play with some consistency. His 18.2 yards per play last year ranked 15th nationally (minimum 25 touches). Opposite him at receiver is Damiere Byrd, who could be the fastest player in the league. His 17.3 yards per play ranked 20th nationally and an impressive 72.7 percent of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown.
  • Tennessee: Outside of a spectacular one-handed grab against South Carolina, Marquez North and his 13 yards per catch were somewhat lost in the shuffle last season. At 6-foot-4 and in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, he shouldn’t have the speed he does. With his size and athleticism (he won the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics 110-meter hurdles at the age of 12), he’s a threat to burn any defensive back in the SEC.
  • Texas A&M: All credit goes to Kevin Sumlin for pulling in some top-tier athletes on the recruiting trail the past two years. Trey Williams, who still has to adjust to the ins and outs of the running back position, has the speed and agility to be a breakout star this season. Meanwhile, there’s Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil to consider. They’ll wow you in different ways -- Noil is all moves and agility and speed, while Seals-Jones is pure height and jumping ability -- but both are threats to score from anywhere on the field.
  • Vanderbilt: The first sentence of Brian Kimbrow’s high school scouting report by ESPN says it all: “Kimbrow may be small but he's an electrifying running back prospect with excellent speed and quickness.” When you think of his running style, think of Warrick Dunn. Kimbrow came on strong as a freshman in 2012 with 413 yards on only 66 carries, but he saw his production taper off last year behind Jerron Seymour and Wesley Tate on the depth chart. Now he has a fresh start under new coach Derek Mason, who showed a major commitment to the running game while at Stanford.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Brian Johnson wants his quarterbacks prepared for anything. It’s not enough to be tall and fast and strong, or to have a powerful and accurate arm. As the old boxing adage goes, everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face. Or something unexpected happens. So Johnson asks his players to be instinctive and make what he calls, “superior spontaneous decisions.”

Bad snap? No problem.

Can’t find the laces? Make due.

[+] EnlargeBrian Johnson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIBrian Johnson is only seven years older than his starting QB at Mississippi State.
Wrestling the ball away from a 300-pound defensive lineman? Remember the drill.

"You may think it was easy," Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott explained, "but when you fall and someone is trying to take the ball you don’t want to go against them, you want to go with them.”

Johnson taught him that. He also taught him how to dig an errant snap out of the dirt and how to catch the ball with one hand. In as much as this past spring was about fundamentals and repetitions, the preamble to Prescott’s would-be breakout season was also about learning new things from a new position coach, one who loves to challenge him with awkward situations.

“If you looked [at practice], you’d think it was basketball,” Prescott said. “It’s the ball between the legs, dropping the ball and trying to catch it before it hits the ground.”

Johnson, who left Utah in February to coach quarterbacks at Mississippi State, handles his players a little differently than his predecessor, Les Koenning. Some of that is the way he runs practice. A big part of it is perspective. Koenning has been a football coach for the better part of four decades, a career that began in 1981. Johnson, meanwhile, was born in 1987 and is only six years removed from a storied playing career at Utah that saw him become the school’s all-time leader in wins.

It’s not that Koenning wasn’t a good coach. But Johnson is more relatable to today’s athlete.

Prescott will better understand going up against Alabama because Johnson threw for 336 yards and beat Nick Saban’s defense in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. He’ll better understand his newfound fame and his role as a Heisman Trophy contender because Johnson was Alex Smith’s backup in 2004 when he finished fourth in the Heisman balloting, and Johnson was once on the cover of the EA Sports NCAA Football video game.

And if that’s not enough, Johnson too has played for Dan Mullen. After all, it was Mullen who recruited Johnson to Utah when Urban Meyer was head coach there. It was that preexisting relationship that drew the two together when Koenning went to Texas.

“The guy has played in a lot of big games, has been in their shoes and in their shoes recently," Mullen said. "The fact that he was recruited by me and played a year for me, he knows my expectations, which are pretty high.”

Mullen didn’t hire Johnson simply because he’s young and relatable. It helped, but ultimately he was brought to Starkville to produce. The SEC West is wide open this year. The old excuses of a lack of playmakers and an underwhelming quarterback no longer exist. The parts are all there for Mississippi State to make a run. If Prescott doesn’t develop into an All-SEC quarterback, it would come as a disappointment.

“Obviously there are huge expectations coming in,” Johnson said.

“By no means are we a finished product in what we want to be. We want to continually get better, continually find ways to improve.”

That statement might be a well-worn coaching cliché, but it’s also what Johnson believes. He might be only 27 years old, but setbacks as both a player and coach have left him well-seasoned to the game. Mississippi State represents a fresh start, one he isn’t taking for granted.

“Already at a young age he’s had some ups and downs in his career, and in talking to him, he’s not fazed by any of that,” Mullen said. “To me, that’s something that’s really important. He knows what his job is going to be. As a young guy he’s been in several different roles already, and I think he’s handled all those really well.”

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsDak Prescott is looking to improve after accounting for 23 total TDs last season but also seven interceptions and a 58 percent completion percentage.
As Johnson sat behind his new desk this spring talking about the move from Utah and the moving truck he still needed to return, he wasn’t trying to sell his youth or his recent playing experience. In fact, he said, “The whole age deal really doesn’t affect me. ... I’ve been young in everything I’ve done in life.”

He could have easily went on and on about what a marvelous talent Prescott is, noting how he finished last season with an epic come-from-behind win over rival Ole Miss before putting on a five-touchdown show in the bowl game against Rice. But the most Johnson will say is, “I like where he’s at” and “he’s super experienced in the system.”

“He’s everything that you look for when you go out and try to recruit a quarterback and an ambassador of your program,” Johnson said of his junior QB. “He’s an extremely hard worker, intelligent and he really raises the level of play.”

And that’s the point. We know about Prescott’s talents and his understanding of Mullen’s offense. Those building blocks are established.

It’s the unknown that we haven’t seen. How will he handle pressure situations? How will he react when something goes wrong? If there’s a loose ball and he’s near it, will he come up with the possession? Will he make the “superior spontaneous decisions” that take quarterbacks from good to great?

If Johnson and his drills have anything to do with it, he will.

“Nobody touches the ball more than [the quarterback],” Johnson said. “You have to be able to handle the ball at awkward angles. What we try to accomplish is creating game-like situations and stuff that’s really going to happen and they can go back and see it on film and say, ‘Hey, that’s our individual drill right there’ when they had to bend at an awkward angle to catch a bad snap or catch a one-handed snap. Stuff like that shows up over the course of playing the position.

“We make it hard for them so when they get in the game it’s not as hard.”

Ranking the SEC quarterbacks

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
1:00
PM ET
Earlier, we ranked all 14 quarterback groups in the SEC. Now, we'll look at who we think will be the top 10 quarterbacks in the league this season.

[+] EnlargeNick Marshall
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesWith his experience and talents, Nick Marshall is the SEC's top QB heading into the 2014 season.
1. Nick Marshall, Sr., Auburn: With a spring practice under his belt and a year in Gus Malzahn's offense, Marshall gets the nod as the top quarterback in the league. His athletic ability is off the charts, and even though he was erratic throwing the ball at times last season, he's improved in that area and has some big-time playmakers around him. Marshall also seems to thrive with the game on the line, which is perhaps the best quality a quarterback can possess.

2. Dak Prescott, RJr., Mississippi State: Prescott's upside is tremendous. He's a bullish runner with an equally strong arm and showed some real courage last season playing through injuries and his mother's death. The challenge is for him to become a more polished passer. But in Dan Mullen's offense, Prescott is a perfect fit and should have an All-SEC type of year.

3. Bo Wallace, RSr., Ole Miss: The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace seems to finally be healthy after battling shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. If he stays healthy, he could easily shoot up to the top of these rankings. He needs to cut down on his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's also accounted for 54 touchdowns during that span.

4. Maty Mauk, RSo., Missouri: Even though the Tigers are losing a ton of firepower at receiver, look for Mauk to be one of the more improved players in the league. He got a taste of it in critical situations last season while filling in for the injured James Franklin, and he delivered. He has the athleticism, arm strength and toughness to be an elite quarterback.

5. Jacob Coker, RJr., Alabama: Every year, it seems, a quarterback comes out of the shadows in the SEC to have a huge year. Cam Newton did it in 2010, Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Marshall last season. Coker could be that guy in 2014 after transferring in from Florida State. His former coach, Jimbo Fisher, says Coker will be the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has had at Alabama.

6. Jeff Driskel, RJr., Florida: The Gators and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper are building what they do offensively around Driskel's strengths. He's a super athlete (and trimmed down some by nearly 15 pounds) and is throwing the ball with renewed confidence. Coming off a broken leg, Driskel has the physical skill set to flourish in Roper's system as he enters his fourth season of college ball.

7. Dylan Thompson, RSr., South Carolina: There wasn't a better reliever in the SEC over the past couple of years than Thompson, who came off the bench in several pressure situations and led the Gamecocks to big wins. With Connor Shaw gone, Thompson now gets a chance to prove that he can get it done as an every-game starter. His forte is throwing the ball from the pocket.

8. Hutson Mason, RSr., Georgia: Mason has waited his turn while sitting behind the record-setter Aaron Murray and even redshirted in 2012 to get this opportunity. He's an accurate passer and knows the offense inside and out. He played late last season after Murray was injured, which should help the transition. Mason's another one who could easily shoot up this list.

9. Justin Worley, Sr., Tennessee: The best news for Worley is that he'll have more guys around him who can make plays. The Vols played their best football last season before Worley injured his thumb. They nearly knocked off Georgia and upset South Carolina with Worley at the helm. He's improved his arm strength and has worked hard this offseason. His senior season should be his best yet.

10. Brandon Allen, RJr., Arkansas: Not much of anything went right with the Hogs' passing game last season, and much of that centered around Allen never really being healthy. To his credit, he continued to fight through injuries and is looking forward to showing what he can do now that he's back to 100 percent. If he stays healthy, Allen could be one of the league's top bounce-back players.

Offseason exodus in the SEC

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
11:30
AM ET
It's that time of year that coaches dread, when unfortunately there tends to be as much activity off the field as on the field.

On Tuesday, we saw three projected defensive starters in the league -- Georgia safety Tray Matthews and Texas A&M linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive tackle Isaiah Golden -- shown the proverbial door.

[+] EnlargeDarian Claiborne
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M's Darian Claiborne is one of three several projected SEC starters who were dismissed by their schools on Tuesday.
In the case of Claiborne and Golden, they were already on double-secret probation and ran out of chances after being arrested and charged with robbing three victims at gunpoint on May 23 after the three men agreed to purchase marijuana from Claiborne and Golden. Claiborne had already been arrested twice and Golden once in the last seven months.

Much will be made of the Aggies, especially as bad as they were on defense a year ago, being in no position to lose young talent the caliber of Claiborne and Golden. But Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is smart enough to know when enough is enough, and when you've got guys on your team who already have previous brushes with the law and are accused of robbing people at gunpoint (in a drug deal, no less), it's past time to cut your losses.

At Georgia, coach Mark Richt had obviously had enough with Matthews, who started six games a year ago in an injury-plagued freshman season. Matthews had shown promise and was a big hitter, but Richt's statement concerning Matthews' dismissal spoke volumes. Matthews was arrested in March, along with three other players, and charged with allegedly cashing school-issued financial aid checks twice.

"We are trying to make room for guys who want to do things right," said Richt, who almost never publicly calls out players, be it current players or former players.

Ironically, Matthews tweeted that he'd likely wind up at Auburn or Louisville, a pair of schools that have become a safe house of sorts for Georgia players who get into trouble or decide to leave the program. Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins have transferred to Louisville, and Nick Marshall is entering his second season as Auburn's quarterback.

Just in the last five or six years, Richt has cut loose a ton of highly regarded talent. Other than Matthews, Harvey-Clemons and Marshall, some of the other names include Isaiah Crowell, Zach Mettenberger, Chris Sanders, Ty Flourney-Smith, Brent Benedict and Washaun Ealey.

Below is a list of the some bigger names around the SEC who've either been dismissed or have decided to transfer for various reasons since the end of last season:

Alabama: RB Alvin Kamara

Florida: S Cody Riggs, QB Tyler Murphy

Georgia: S Josh Harvey-Clemons, QB Christian LeMay, S Tray Matthews, CB Shaq Wiggins

Kentucky: QB Jalen Whitlow

LSU: QB Stephen Rivers

Missouri: WR Dorial Green-Beckham

Ole Miss: OT Austin Golson

Tennessee: QB Riley Ferguson

Texas A&M: LB Darian Claiborne, DT Isaiah Golden, QB Matt Joeckel, S Kameron Miles

SPONSORED HEADLINES