Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss all boast 8-3 records heading into the last weekend of the regular season. Ole Miss and State are ranked. All are headed to bowls. USM plays for a division championship Saturday. There’s a chance, albeit slight, Ole Miss will, as well.
This is quite a bit of football success for one small state. It’s not unprecedented, but it is rather remarkable.
Smart football people often correctly say quarterbacks get too much credit for a team’s success and too much blame for a team’s failure. So let’s put it this way: You can’t blame Dak Prescott, Chad Kelly or Nick Mullens for much at all this season. They do deserve lots and lots of credit.
Never in Mississippi football history have three quarterbacks at the state’s three largest universities played so well at the same time. To borrow a slogan from the PGA Tour, these guys are good. Really good.
The numbers they have put up border on preposterous. They would make Magnolia State legends such as Brett Favre, Eli Manning, and Steve McNair proud. Quarterbacks have won Heisman Trophies with nowhere near the statistics these guys have racked up. All have set records.
Get this: As a trio, they have thrown for 10,241 yards and 80 touchdowns. They have accounted, passing and running, for 101 touchdowns. Remember, this is not a video game. This is real football.
All three are accurate. Kelly has completed 65 percent of his throws, Prescott 66 percent and Mullens 64 percent.
I know, I know: Everybody wants to rank them, and that’s really hard.
Mullens has the highest passer rating at 158.0, compared to Kelly’s 154.1 and Prescott’s 151.5. Mullens also has thrown for slightly more yards but against lesser competition.
Their numbers are really similar except for the all-important interception category. That’s where Prescott is simply off the charts. Only three of his 393 attempts this season have been caught by the wrong team. Mullens has thrown eight interceptions, Kelly 12.
The touchdown/interception ratios: Kelly 25/12; Prescott 23/3 and Mullens 32/8.
There are many reasons for the success all three programs have enjoyed this season, but it starts at quarterback. Just when you thought Prescott couldn’t be any better than he has been these last two seasons at State, he stepped it up to an even higher level. He is more accurate than he has been in the past. He makes better decisions. At times, he puts the Bulldogs on his broad shoulders and carries them. Last Saturday night at Fayetteville was a case in point. He should be much more part of Heisman Trophy discussions.
Kelly’s adjustment from junior college football to the SEC has been stupendous. Not since Cam Newton did it at Auburn have we seen anything quite like it. Newton personally accounted for 52 touchdowns over 14 games for Auburn in 2010. Kelly has accounted for 35 TDs over 11 games.
Mullens, a junior, had shown flashes of this season’s prowess as a freshman and sophomore. He was pressed into playing as a freshmen when he normally would have red-shirted. He was progressing well his sophomore season before an injury. This season, with better blocking and supported by a running game, he has become a standout, a legit candidate for Player of the Year in his league.
So now we go to the last week of the regular season and each has a chance to end with an exclamation point. Start with Mullens. USM can win its division with a victory at Louisiana Tech Saturday. Tech was the opponent last season when Mullens went down with an injury and USM leading the game. USM, 3-4 at the time, stumbled home at 3-9. A victory Saturday would mean 9-3.
Prescott and Kelly? They go head to head in the Egg Bowl with so much at stake, most of all the Golden Egg Trophy. In Mississippi there is such a monumental difference between 9-3 and Egg Bowl victory, compared with 8-4 and Egg Bowl defeat. No matter which quarterback wins the game, both have achieved splendid seasons in 2015. Indeed, all three have.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.