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Mississippi State has star power with return of QB Dak Prescott, but also many new faces

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STARKVILLE, Mississippi — Mississippi State has one of the country's best returning quarterbacks in senior Dak Prescott.

The rest of the roster is much more of an unknown.

The Bulldogs have just eight starters returning — four each on offense and defense — from last year's team that won 10 games and spent five weeks as the No. 1 ranked team in the country.

"Even though there will be a lot of new faces, there will be a lot of recognizable faces coming back and we're excited about that," Mullen said.

Prescott is by far the most important — he threw for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns while also running for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns — and his consistently fantastic performances vaulted him into the Heisman Trophy conversation for much of last fall.

He'll try to duplicate that performance with a new running back combo of Ashton Shumpert, Dontavian Lee, Aeris Williams and Brandon Holloway.

"We have a lot of versatility," Prescott said. "It is a good group of guys who can do a bunch of things."

There will also be at least three new starters along the offensive line.

Mississippi State's defense is more experienced than it first appears because several players who didn't start last season still received ample playing time. Among them are linebacker Richie Brown, cornerback Will Redmond and defensive lineman Chris Jones.

The Bulldogs also have new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who came back to the program after two-plus seasons as the defensive coordinator at Texas and another season at Louisiana Tech.

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Some things to watch at Mississippi State this season:

PRESCOTT'S ENCORE: If Mississippi State's Dak Prescott has a decent senior season, he'll go down as easily the best quarterback in the program's history. But the Bulldogs are expecting him to be much more than decent. The 6-foot-2 Prescott was one of college football's best players last season, throwing for 3,449 yards, 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while running for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's considered one of the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy.

NUMBERS ARE DECEIVING: Mississippi State is returning just four defensive starters from last season, which is one reason why many preseason predictions have the Bulldogs finishing near the bottom of the SEC's Western Division. Coach Dan Mullen says that number is deceiving. There were several defensive players from last season — including cornerback Will Redmond, linebacker Richie Brown and defensive tackle Chris Jones — who didn't start but had prominent roles last season.

LONG LINE OF BACKS: Mississippi State must replace last year's leading rusher Josh Robinson, who is now in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts. If recent history is any indication, that won't be a problem. The Bulldogs have had a long line of productive backs over the past several years, including Anthony Dixon, Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins.

BEAR FORCE ONE: De'Runnya Wilson, who is nicknamed 'Bear Force One,' was Prescott's favorite target in the passing game last season and should be in line for another standout season. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Wilson caught 47 passes for 680 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Wilson, who played just one season of varsity football in high school, was also a terrific basketball player at the prep level and played one season at Mississippi State before concentrating on the football field.

NO RESPECT: Mississippi State feels it has a team that could compete for an SEC Western Division title. Outsiders aren't nearly as optimistic. Most preseason polls have the Bulldogs finishing near the bottom of the West despite last year's 10-win season, which included five weeks as the No. 1 team in the national rankings. There are some legitimate reasons for that: Even through Prescott returns the Bulldogs will be using three new starters on the offensive line. Mississippi State will also miss productive linebacker Benardrick McKinney, who is now in the NFL with the Houston Texans.


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