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What is a reasonable expectation of Nick Fitzgerald for 2017?

Much has been said about how Nick Fitzgerald will improve in 2017, but how much should fans actually expect?

NCAA Football: St. Petersburg Bowl-Miami (Ohio) at Mississippi State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Mississippi St. Bulldogs are hoping to rebound from a disappointing 6-7 season. While the last month was pretty good in 2017, the time leading up to it were pretty tough to swallow for most Mississippi State fans.

Much of any improvement that will occur will run alongside the improvement Junior Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald makes. The most important position on the field is the quarterback position, and if the quarterback doesn’t play well, the team doesn’t usually either.

Many people think Nick Fitzgerald is going to take a big leap forward in 2017. Their basis of this opinion was the improvement Dak Prescott made from his sophomore season to his junior season. So what should we expect from Fitzgerald? Let’s look at the numbers for both from their sophomore seasons.

Dak Prescott (Sophomore Season: 2013)

  • Completions: 156
  • Attempts: 267
  • Percentage: 58.4
  • Passing Yards: 1,940
  • Passing Touchdowns: 10
  • Interceptions: 7
  • Quarterback Rating: 126.6
  • Rushing Attempts: 134
  • Rushing Yards: 829
  • Average Per Carry: 6.2
  • Rushing Touchdowns: 13
  • Total Yards: 2,769
  • Total Touchdowns: 25 (Dak had 2 receiving)

Nick Fitzgerald (Sophomore Season: 2016)

  • Completions: 196
  • Attempts: 361
  • Percentage: 54.3
  • Passing Yards: 2,423
  • Passing Touchdowns: 21
  • Interceptions: 10
  • Quarterback Rating: 124.3
  • Rushing Attempts: 195
  • Rushing Yards: 1,375
  • Average Per Carry: 7.1
  • Rushing Touchdowns: 16
  • Total Yards: 3,798
  • Total Touchdowns: 37

There is a pretty clear blanket statement you can make. Nick Fitzgerald had the better season overall. He threw for more yards, ran for more yards, threw more touchdowns, and ran for more touchdowns. The only area in which Dak Prescott had significantly better numbers was in the completion percentage. Other than that, Nick Fitzgerald had the better sophomore season.

Dak Prescott made significant improvements in almost every category as a junior. He went down a little bit in yards per rush, but most of that can be attributed to his increase in carries. Here are all of his stats for 2014, his junior season.

  • Completions: 244
  • Attempts: 396
  • Percentage: 61.6
  • Passing Yards: 3,449
  • Passing Touchdowns: 27
  • Interceptions: 11
  • Quarterback Rating: 151.7
  • Rushing Attempts: 210
  • Rushing Yards: 986
  • Average Per Carry: 4.7
  • Rushing Touchdowns: 14
  • Total Yards: 4,435
  • Total Touchdowns: 42 (1 receiving)

This is an incredible season. It’s one of the best that the SEC has ever seen. I’m not sure we’ll fully appreciate what Dak did his junior season until it has been years from the 2014 season.

If Nick Fitzgerald is able to come close to replicating what Dak did in 2014, then the Bulldogs will have a breakout season. But the stats may be hard to get to that level, and it will have nothing to do with Nick Fitzgerald.

Dak Prescott had an established team in 2014. We knew who his receivers were going to be. De’Runnya Wilson, Jameon Lewis, and Fred Ross had been in the program and somewhat proven themselves. Malcolm Johnson was another solid option at tight end. His offensive line, though lowly rated coming out of high school, had played together for years and were rarely outmatched upfront.

Nick Fitzgerald does not have the same proven guys playing around him. It’s not to say the Bulldogs won’t have guys step up, but it might take longer. And asking 8 or 9 guys to make career changing leaps in one year is unreasonable. A few players will establish themselves, but will it be enough for the Bulldogs to rebound in a big way from 2016?

Based on his supporting cast and his talent combined, here is what I think it will take from Nick Fitzgerald to have a season in which the Bulldogs can win at least 8 games during the regular season.

  • Completions: 200 - 250
  • Attempts: 350 - 400
  • Percentage: 59 - 62
  • Passing Yards: 2,800 - 3,000
  • Passing Touchdowns: 25 - 30
  • Interceptions: 8 - 12
  • Quarterback Rating: 140 - 155
  • Rushing Attempts: 240 - 275
  • Rushing Yards: 1,000 - 1,400
  • Average Per Carry: 5.5 - 7.0
  • Rushing Touchdowns: 12 - 15
  • Total Yards: 3,800 - 4,400
  • Total Touchdowns: 40 - 45

It’s going to be interesting to watch Nick Fitzgerald this season. Due to Dak Prescott’s success in the NFL in his rookie season, Dan Mullen quarterbacks are going to get a lot more attention by NFL scouts. Fitzgerald has the talent to make a similar leap in his sophomore season, but the question that will determine big that leap is will have just as much to do with the players around him.