- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) - Fred Ross is confident Mississippi State’s offense is going to be productive this season.

Just don’t ask the senior receiver what it might look like. Truth is, he doesn’t know.

That’s because the Bulldogs have an unorthodox four-man quarterback race when preseason practice opens on Tuesday. Even though much of Mississippi State’s offense will stay the same no matter who is under center, there’s no doubt the finished product will be tailored to the man taking the snaps.

“The sky’s the limit,” Ross said Monday. “But we’ve got to work at it during camp and get everything fixed. I don’t know how this offense is going to be, but I do expect it to be good.”

Sophomore Nick Fitzgerald is one of the early favorites to win the quarterback job after several successful cameo appearances in 2015.

As a redshirt freshman backing up senior star Dak Prescott, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Fitzgerald completed nearly 80 percent of his passes for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

But that performance wasn’t good enough to earn him the starting job this fall. Instead, he’s in a competition that started last spring and will almost certainly be the hottest topic of preseason camp.

For the four quarterbacks - Fitzgerald, sophomore Elijah Staley, junior Damian Williams and redshirt freshman Nick Tiano - every snap they take during practice will be precious and heavily scrutinized. Coach Dan Mullen said they will all receive about 25 percent of the snaps in the opening days of preseason camp.

The Bulldogs’ opener is at home against South Alabama on Sept. 3.

Mullen said he’ll make a decision on the starting quarterback “as soon as it defines itself.” He’d like to do that during preseason practice but acknowledged the competition could last deep into the season.

The eighth-year coach has been clear about the most important trait the eventual starter will possess: consistency.

“Who has made the improvements over the summer to be the most consistent performer to help us win football games?” Mullen said. “I think if you watched (all four) you say, ‘Wow, these guys can make some extraordinary plays.’

“But the biggest thing we need is the guy who can make the play every single snap.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Ross figures to be one of the most important players on Mississippi State’s offense no matter who is playing quarterback.

Ross led the team with 88 catches for 1,007 yards and five touchdowns last season. Mullen said Ross could be a threat at several different positions because his versatility allows Mississippi State’s coaches to move him around the field and find good matchups.

Another veteran playmaker is senior Brandon Holloway, who was second on the team with 413 yards rushing last year while catching 33 passes for 396 yards and five touchdowns.

Mississippi State also returns a handful of experienced offensive linemen who will be charged with protecting the new quarterback.

Now it’s just a matter of finding out exactly who that will be. Holloway didn’t sound concerned.

“I think it’s going to be good,” Holloway said. “I’m waiting to see the outcome as well.”


Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP


AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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