STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State is expecting quarterback Dak Prescott to have an all-Southeastern Conference caliber season in his first full year as the starter.
Judging from his performance last year, that's certainly possible. But he's going to need some help.
That's where guys like Josh Robinson, Jameon Lewis and Jamaal Clayborn become very important. Robinson moves into the starting running back role after backing up LaDarius Perkins last season while Lewis returns after leading the team with 64 catches for 923 yards.
Clayborn is one of two new starting offensive linemen. The 6-foot-4, 315-pound sophomore is a prime example of coach Dan Mullen's ability to take lightly recruited players and turn them into quick contributors.
Prescott said the Bulldogs take pride in their low-profile identity.
"That's just who we are, we're a blue-collar team that works hard and doesn't really care about the labels we're given," Prescott said Saturday at the team's media day. "We're not a bunch of five-star guys. We're just hard workers who are going to get better and make sure others get better."
Prescott's huge role on the team is hard to overstate. He threw for 1,940 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while also running for a team-high 829 yards and 13 touchdowns. If he's not healthy, the Bulldogs' offense suddenly looks a lot different.
That's why Clayborn is so vital. He's listed as the new starter at left guard, replacing Gabe Jackson, who was taken in the third round by the Oakland Raiders in the NFL draft.
Mississippi State co-offensive coordinator John Hevesy said players like Clayborn, who was a two-star recruit, and starting right guard Ben Beckwith, who is a former walk-on, have the right attitude even if they lacked the perfect measurable coming out of high school.
"Everyone loves Saturday afternoon in the SEC because there's not a person who wouldn't," Hevesy said. "But how many love Feb. 23rd at 5 a.m. (in the weight room)? That's when you find out the guys that want to be great."
Prescott says he expects to have plenty of protection and playmakers around him to get the job done.
Robinson moves into a starting role after rushing for 459 yards and three touchdowns while averaging nearly six yards per carry last season. The barrel-chested 5-foot-9, 215-pounder says he bench presses about 380 pounds and is adamant an increased workload won't decrease his efficiency.
"I only know one speed and that's fast," Robinson said. "It doesn't change anything. I've got to be who I am every day and find ways to get better."
Mississippi State also has senior running back Nick Griffin, who has struggled with injuries throughout his career but could help Robinson carry the load. Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway are also listed as possibilities on the depth chart.
"Every year it's a committee for us," Mullen said. "Josh had a lot of yards rushing last year. Usually one guy steps out a little bit ahead of everybody else."
The Bulldogs return plenty of experience at receiver. Mullen hopes that will help the offense develop a consistent deep passing threat that's sometimes been lacking in previous seasons.
Lewis was the most productive last season, but it's 6-foot-5 sophomore De'Runnya Wilson who might be the most intriguing prospect. He caught 26 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in only his second season of organized football.
Wilson was an accomplished basketball player in high school and even played some for the Bulldogs last winter. Now he's decided to just concentrate on football and his athletic ability on long passing plays could prove vital.
"The key is when you have those opportunities, you take advantage of it," Mullen said. "Hopefully we'll be able to do that. We have different guys who bring different things to the table."