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Replacing a Legend: Finding Mississippi State's next Quarterback

It's impossible to replace Dak Prescott. But which way does Dan Mullen go to choose the next signal caller and leader of Mississippi State?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Dak Prescott is a living legend in Starkville, Mississippi. The best ever to play in our beloved Maroon and White. How do you move forward from the man that scribbled his name all over the record book? It’s impossible to truly replace the kind of quarterback that Dak Prescott is. There will never be another who can do what he did at Mississippi State. That doesn’t mean, however, that others cannot continue to build off of the momentum and the legacy that he established in Starkville. So, who does Dan Mullen turn to take on the offense for this next year?

There are four guys who all (at least theoretically) have a shot to take the starting job and lead the Bulldogs next season: Damian Williams, Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley, and Nick Tiano. Of these four, three have in game experience, with Damian Williams actually having starting experience and being the savior of the end of the 2013 season. With Tiano having redshirted this year, it’s more than likely that the race will boil down to Williams, Fitzgerald, and Staley.

Let’s break down each of these three resumes, shall we?

Starting with Damian Williams. Damian was brought in by Dan Mullen late in the recruiting process back in the signing class of 2013 with the possibility of Cord Sandberg deciding to play baseball professionally. With Cord eventually heading off to major league baseball, Damian was the only quarterback brought in with this class. He was a 3 star recruit out of Louisiana (a recipe for success if you ask me) and didn’t seem to bring a lot of hype. But the signing brought depth at the position for the Bulldogs, and the depth would be desperately needed later in the following season, as Damian would end up leading MSU past Arkansas in an overtime affair and would be the starter of the Egg Bowl.

At 6’1" and 228 pounds, he’s not exactly built like a stereotypical passer. He’s got a very solid, stocky build that seems more fitting of a running back than a quarterback. And with his stocky build and running ability come the comparisons to a quarterback that excelled at power running in a spread option offense who preceded Dak by the name of Chris Relf.

Now, Damian Williams obviously isn’t Chris Relf, and he isn’t Dak Prescott either. He’s his own man and is capable of leading MSU in his own right. But his skill set is worth mentioning. With Williams having a lower center of gravity than the other quarterbacks in this battle, he is able to provide a different, more of a bruising rushing attack. And even though his passing percentage isn’t much to write home about, he does have the ability to complete some crisp passes. Add in the fact that he’s been around campus for several years now, he should know every play in the playbook by now, both backwards and forwards.

If he weren’t following up the legend that is Dak, most fans would be ecstatic at the possibility of Damian being the starter. But there’ll come a lot of scrutiny and this quarterback battle will be watched closely by the maroon and white faithful.

Because of that scrutiny and small margin for error, that leads us to the excitement building behind two younger quarterbacks on the roster in Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley. These two signal callers came in the same year from the same state and have similar builds and skill sets. Fitzgerald, the "smaller" of the two, stands at 6’5" and 227 pounds. Staley, who also plays small forward for the basketball team, is 6’6" and 248 pounds. With the right combination of a strong arm, sturdy frame, and quick feet, both of these guys are built perfectly for the demands of Dan Mullen's offense.

Fitzgerald has been the recipient of a lot of buzz around the program, with many believing him to be the eventual winner of the job. After all, he's been the first off the bench any time Dak came off the field this season. He also has a bit of experience after enrolling early, going through two spring practices fully healthy, and playing this year. However, though Fitzgerald might be receiving more attention from the fans at the moment, Elijah Staley will be taking the court more and more with the men's basketball team now that football season is over. This will provide the two sport star another stage to gather the eyes of the MSU faithful as well as a different set of exercises and practices to continue to stay in shape while waiting for football season.

Ultimately for MSU, there truly is no wrong answer with whichever route Dan Mullen seems to take. He has the option of a seasoned hand in Damian Williams. Or he might go with less experience but more athleticism with Nick Fitzgerald or Elijah Staley. Or he chooses the wild card in all of this in Nick Tiano, who redshirted. There’s no certainty in guessing who will win the job. But, it should be noted that Nick Fitzgerald was the first off the bench in every circumstance this year. Would that have been the case had Damian Williams not been redshirting due to injury from the Panama City attack?

If I were to guess right now, my money would lie with Damian being the starter to start the season. If we’ve seen anything with Mullen, it’s that he values experience and consistency. Add in the fact that Damian seemed to be able to make plays happen when they needed to happen his freshman year and kept MSU in play against Ole Miss, and you have the possibility of a true winner taking the reins. But I would not be surprised or count out the possibility of Nick Fitzgerald winning the job by the end of the season. He’s incredibly talented and fun to watch.

MSU could more than likely get 8 wins next season, regardless of who wins the job. But whoever does earn it, we as a fan base should back and support fully. The guy is going to have to deal with a football program where the expectations are higher than ever. Don’t compare him to Dak, because there’ll simply never be another quarterback who is who he was.