By DAVID BRANDT
AP SPORTS WRITER
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Quarterback Dak Prescott’s breakout sophomore season produced some impressive moments last fall, including 13 touchdown runs, 10 touchdown passes and a comeback win over a bitter in-state rival.
It also produced some rapidly skyrocketing expectations.
That’s just fine for the Mississippi State signal caller, who reported for preseason camp on Wednesday afternoon along with the rest of his teammates.
“I don’t feel like I’ve played my best ball yet,” Prescott said. “But it’s kind of good to see other people noticing what I can do and having high expectations for me. That just raises my personal expectations.”
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Prescott leads a Mississippi State team that’s expected to be competitive in the Southeastern Conference’s brutal Western Division. The team’s opener is on Aug. 30 at home against Southern Mississippi.
Coach Dan Mullen has turned the Bulldogs into a consistent winner during his six seasons in Starkville, including four straight postseason appearances over the past four years.
But Mississippi State hasn’t been able to sniff the top of the SEC West because of the presence of powerhouse programs like Alabama, Auburn and LSU. With 18 starters returning, this is the year the Bulldogs hope they can finally be a factor in the race.
The Bulldogs closed last season on a three-game winning streak, with several young players earning valuable experience. The highlight came when an injured Prescott returned in the fourth quarter of the Egg Bowl against Mississippi and led the Bulldogs to a 17-10 overtime victory.
In a league that’s breaking in several new quarterbacks, Prescott is one of the few with experience. He was selected to the All-SEC preseason second team by the league’s media members two weeks ago.
“We have high expectations for ourselves,” Prescott said. “Young guys were coming in and making plays (last year) so now that they know what they can do, everybody’s counting on them.”
The Bulldogs’ offense has been transitioning to a no-huddle approach since last season in an effort to take advantage of the team’s speed and versatility. Offensive lineman Ben Beckwith said he expects that to be the main focus during the early weeks of camp.
“Once everyone steps up and does their 1/11th, we’ll be pretty good,” Prescott said.
Mississippi State’s defense returns nine starters, including sophomore defensive tackle Chris Jones.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Jones was an immediate force for the Bulldogs in the middle of the defensive line as a true freshman, sharing the team lead with seven tackles for a loss.
“We’ve got all the key talent,” Jones said. “The issue is staying healthy. If everyone is healthy, the sky is the limit for us.”
Mississippi State has a little more than four weeks to get ready for its opener at newly-renovated Davis Wade Stadium. But before that, there will be the annual trip to “The Farm,” which is really a few intramural fields next to the school’s agricultural facilities.
Prescott says it’s not particularly fun, but it does help the team build its identity.
“It’s hot, it stinks and it smells like cows — it’s a farm,” Prescott said with a grin. “A little rain makes it muddy and that when the mud comes it makes it even worse. But it’s an experience and that’s part of camp. You just keep going.”