THIBODAUX — Dak Prescott should be easy to spot at Southeastern Conference Media Days on Tuesday.
The Mississippi State senior from Haughton will be the one with the horde of reporters around him, which is expected when you’re considered the league’s top returning quarterback. And, if that’s not enough, just look for the guy walking around The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, with a chip on his shoulder.
He wears it because the Bulldogs, whom he led into uncharted territory last year with a No. 1 national ranking, are picked to finish toward the bottom of the always-rugged SEC West.
“We have a big chip,” Prescott said Friday at the Manning Passing Academy. “After the season we had last year and with a lot of guys returning, some people still have us last and not giving us credit. That gives us more motivation.”
Prescott, a counselor for the second straight year, got a glimpse of what a difference a year can make Friday during the Manning camp’s media day. It was a mini version of what his second year representing MSU at the SEC’s Media Days will be like.
Last year, it was Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota getting most of the questions at the Manning camp.
“Last year, I had one question asked,” Prescott said. “This year, there have been a bunch of them. A year like we had last year will do that for you. But me being the guy I am, I haven’t changed one bit. I’m just staying humble and blessed.”
Prescott enters his final season with plenty of buzz after throwing for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior. He was a preseason All-SEC first-team selection by Phil Steele and Athlon and will almost certainly be the first-team pick in voting held by the media this week. He is the seventh choice in the race to win the Heisman Trophy this season by one odds website.
He’s ready for the expectations.
“I think everyone who plays this game plays with those goals,” Prescott said. “I think you’re playing for the wrong reasons if you don’t want to be the best quarterback out there. I’m excited for everything that has happened to me, and I just continue to do the things that got me in this position.”
But Prescott admits there is still plenty of work to do. After going undefeated and climbing to No. 1 in the College Football Playoff ranking, Mississippi State lost three of its last four games: to Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
“Just the way we finished the season, I kind of took it personal,” Prescott said. “It ended on a sour note. We started well, but we wanted to finish the season strong. … It’s motivation. We know the stuff we did last year that got us to where we were, but we gotta finish.”
Prescott spent his time at the Manning Passing Academy instructing high school quarterbacks but also picking the brains of some of the others there.
“I’m asking so many questions of Peyton (Manning) and Jake Delhomme,” he said. “There are so many guys who have been there and done that.”
Prescott will help carry the torch for SEC quarterbacks, alongside guys like Missouri’s Maty Mauk and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs.
“You look at the past, and it’s been guys like (Johnny) Manziel and (AJ) McCarron,” Mauk said. “It’s going to be exciting. Dak and I both have had a couple years we have grown and learned, and now I’m looking to just come out and be healthy for the whole year and take it to the next level.”
While Mauk is looking to take Missouri to its third straight SEC title game, Prescott is seeking to guide MSU to Atlanta for the first time since 1998. Prescott was just a 5-year-old in north Louisiana back then, but he got a taste of what college success could be like last season.
“It was something that had never been done before, so it was very exciting to bring that buzz around that campus and that city,” Prescott said. “The people had never seen anything like that. To make history, it was a great experience being the No. 1 team. We were the hunted instead of going hunting people.”
This year, will the Bulldogs be the hunters or the hunted?
The prognosticators say the former. Prescott knows what it takes to make it the latter.
“We can’t have a fall-back year,” he said. “We have to be stronger and finish even better.”
A lot of it will fall on his broad shoulders, where he carries that chip.