- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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In a league going through a major rebuild at the quarterback position, Mississippi State has the luxury of avoiding the fray.
The Bulldogs have their quarterback, and while he might not be a household name like a few QBs who just exited the SEC, he's someone who should get plenty of attention in 2014.
Redshirt junior Dak Prescott only threw for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, but he'll enter the 2014 season as a prominent name, especially after ending last season with gutsy performances in victories over archival Ole Miss and Rice.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound dual-threat quarterback was in and out as a starter all season, but capped his sophomore campaign with a game-winning, overtime touchdown run against the Rebels and threw for a career-high 283 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 78 yards and two more scores against Rice in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
Almost a forgotten man in such a big league, Prescott propelled himself onto a short list of the best quarterbacks in the SEC for 2014. And even though his hype train is dwarfed by your standard locomotive, it's bringing a little more attention to a program looking to make a push in the SEC Western Division this fall.
But will more eyes on a quarterback still trying to find his way in the nation's toughest conference be too much of a distraction? Not if coach Dan Mullen has anything to say about it.
"Fortunately for me, I've been around some high-profile ones," Mullen told ESPN.com earlier this month.
At Florida, Mullen had the responsibility of coaching Tim Tebow -- a Heisman Trophy winner as a sophomore and a victim of intense hype before he even signed his national letter of intent -- and isn't worried about Prescott being drowned in any sort of captivating limelight. He understands that Prescott's momentum from the 2013 season has more people noticing him, but he plans to deflect any extra attention for his quarterback onto himself.
Mullen also believes he's working with a player who couldn't care less about fame.
"He's a very level-headed kid," Mullen said. "He's gone through some tough things, obviously with his mom passing away [last] year. A lot of the stuff he's had to overcome, he lets that keep him in check. I haven't seen him be anything different than what he is, and he has a drive to be even better. He's working harder now than I've ever seen him work before, which says a lot because he's one of the hardest-working guys on our team."
It helps that Prescott is far from a finished product. There's no need to succumb to any hype when there are still a handful of things on which to improve.
The conclusion to Prescott's 2013 season was impressive, and it has created dark horse Heisman whispers, but there were plenty of moments when Prescott looked overwhelmed or tried to do too much. Mullen said Prescott has to understand defenses better, he has to be a more consistent and efficient passer (seven interceptions last year), and has to make "better and quicker decisions" in the pocket.
Prescott is still a young on-field talent. This year is his year as the Bulldogs' quarterback and Mullen expects him to take full advantage. Mullen also expects Prescott to do everything needed to take the next step.
Mullen saw Prescott's heart, desire, drive and playmaking ability when he was a relative unknown on the recruiting trail, and those traits have remained, making him capable of quite the encore in 2014.
"You could see in him that he had that 'it' [factor]; he had that drive," Mullen said.
"Guys kind of have it or they don't. He naturally has that 'it.'"
7hDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff