Last season: 9-4 (4-4 SEC)
Opener: Sept. 3 vs. South Alabama (noon on SEC Network)
Fun fact: Dan Mullen’s six bowl trips in seven seasons equal what former Bulldogs coach Jackie Sherrill accomplished in 13 seasons.
Coming Tuesday: Missouri
Mississippi State senior receiver Fred Ross can't begin to measure just how much he learned the past three seasons from former Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott led Mississippi State to the program's first No. 1 ranking during the 2014 season, which ended with its first trip to the Orange Bowl since 1939. The Bulldogs won 10 games in 2014 and followed it up with nine victories a year ago, when they capped Prescott's illustrious career with a 51-28 drubbing of North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl.
"Dak did a lot for our school and our program," Ross said this month at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala. "He is one of the hardest-working guys I know. It would be crazy to see how hard he worked and then see that he still had energy left. He would go hard each and every day, and that's what I want to do to maximize my potential."
That opportunity will come soon enough.
Ross, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder from Tyler, Texas, was Prescott's favorite target last year, racking up 88 receptions for 1,007 yards and five touchdowns. Ross set single-season school records for receptions, 100-yard games (five) and consecutive 100-yard games (four), and he became Mississippi State's first All-SEC first-team receiver since Eric Moulds in 1995.
His 88 catches and 6.77 catches per game led the league.
With Prescott now with the Dallas Cowboys, Ross will have to develop a chemistry with whoever emerges as Mississippi State's next starting quarterback, out of Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley, Nick Tiano and Damian Williams. Tiano, the lone member of that quartet yet to take a snap in a college game, is a redshirt freshman from Baylor School.
"It's going to be different," Ross said, "but I think our quarterbacks are more than capable of handing different situations."
Ross will have to play catch-up in preseason camp, having missed spring practices due to groin surgery in March. He is among just five returning starters from an offense that averaged a healthy 460.5 yards and 34.4 points per game last season, and eighth-year Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen recognizes the importance of having him back.
"You would love to have everybody be veterans," Mullen said, "but if you have some veteran wide receivers and a young quarterback, they have to take some of the onus and responsibility of trying to make life easier for that quarterback. Fred understands the offense, can play multiple positions and is a great playmaker.
"I think he will help take a lot of pressure off the quarterbacks, and we're going to need him to do that for these guys to get comfortable and get more experience in games."
Mississippi State returns seven starters defensively, but the loss of Prescott was the primary reason the Bulldogs recently were picked to finish seventh in the SEC West. The Bulldogs have yet to finish seventh in their division under Mullen and wound up second behind Alabama two years ago.
The Bulldogs have the league's most unique nonconference schedule this season with trips to UMass and BYU, and those two journeys could determine whether a seventh consecutive bowl is in store or how nice that bowl destination could be.
"Things have definitely changed from my freshman year until now," Ross said. "We expect to win every game we play in. We've been in that national spotlight, but we know we've got a lot of work to do.
"I know I was blessed to have a year like I had last season. Now I want to keep it up."
Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6524.