Quarterback Will Rogers is coming off of his sophomore campaign at Mississippi State, his first full season as the team’s starter. In Year 2 of head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, the recipe of context that surrounded Rogers felt unprecedented.
Playing quarterback in the near cartoonish form of Leach’s Air Raid means that you are viewed under the Air Raid magnifying glass, and now, in an age in which Twitter is at the height of its power, the culture is able to look through that Air Raid magnifying glass with Southeastern Conference lenses.
“Will the Air Raid work in the SEC?”
People were and still are anxious to answer the question.
And because Rogers has put together the first full body of work within these parameters, he is the champion for both sides of the argument, who each want a black and white answer.
Week in and week out during the 2021 season, Rogers found himself caught between warring Twitter narratives.
“Will Rogers is the best quarterback in the SEC this year, just look at the numbers,” said many.
“His stats are inflated because he’s in the Air Raid. He’s not good,” said the rebuttals.
Each side of this tug-of-war dug their feet farther in the ground as the season progressed, when in reality the truth was somewhere in the middle, as is so painstakingly often the case.
No, Rogers didn’t get as much respect as he might have earned this season due to being too quickly dismissed by the inflated stats argument. But on the flip side, Rogers just was not the best quarterback in the SEC last season.
Personally, I’d argue he was third behind the more experienced Matt Corral and a freak of nature in Bryce Young.
Nevertheless, Mississippi State faithful have been starved for high-end quarterback play since the days of Dak Prescott, and it’s hard to blame them for latching on to Rogers’ potential and holding tight.
Mississippi State fans operate with a certain chip on their shoulder in response to perceived disrespect from the rest of the college sports world. To some degree, they have a point. Both in football and athletics as a whole, Mississippi State has been one of the most consistent performers for the SEC over the past decade and a half or so, yet the Bulldogs are still often viewed as a conference bottom feeder by the general college football circle.
Being predicted to finish seventh in the SEC West more often than not and hardly ever finishing in that spot has become a near yearly tradition for the program, which provides cement foundations for shoulder chips.
Within this framework, you can see why State fans by and large fought tooth and nail for more Rogers respect in the face of what felt like yet another example of unwarranted Mississippi State belittling.
After staking one’s claim on Twitter as a Rogers supporter and making him the poster child for “Mississippi State against the world,” the outcome of him performing poorly would be catastrophic. It would mean having to do what casual college football Twitter warriors fear most, admitting they were wrong.
As a result, Rogers was given little room for error by his own fan base, adding yet another layer to the bizarre situation he finds himself in.
Overreactions to a less-than-perfect Rogers’ performance ran wild, with the fan base seemingly rotating between turning on him and falling in love with him each and every week in the middle of the season. Such polarity is bred from fans’ fragile egos who fear they put all their argument winning eggs in the wrong basket.
I feel for Rogers. The nature of the offense he’s in, at the school he’s at, in the region of the country that he is, makes for a blanket of biased and unfair expectations he has to perform under.
The truth is, he’s getting better the more he grows in the offense, and he shows plenty of potential to run this offense at its highest level. As far as where he is right now, he’s just simply pretty good.
And that’s OK.
He doesn’t have to be the champion of the Air Raid’s validity in the SEC or the face of Mississippi State athletics just yet. But you also can’t write off how well he’s actually done by screaming about inflated stats and check downs if you’re not actually watching him grow each game.
He’s allowed to exist somewhere between.