It’s not Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen’s style to reveal much about his depth chart before the first game, so it came as quite a surprise when he announced a starting quarterback during this week’s press conference.
His choice: Nick Williams.
Only one problem — no such player exists on the roster.
Can’t say the coach doesn’t have a sense of humor. The joke was a combination of the names of the two quarterbacks — junior Damian Williams and sophomore Nick Fitzgerald — who have worked their way to the top of Mississippi State’s depth chart.
Mullen said both will play when Mississippi State hosts South Alabama on Saturday in the opener for both teams. He said the two-man plan isn’t an attempt to deceive the Jaguars.
“I was wanting complete clarity and having a defined No. 1,” said Mullen, who is in his eighth season at Mississippi State. “But I don’t think there is one yet so I plan on us playing more than one in the first quarter.”
A two-quarterback system might not be ideal, but it’s better than the situation at the start of the month. The Bulldogs opened preseason camp with a four-man race before sophomore Elijah Staley transferred after the first few weeks of camp.
Redshirt freshman Nick Tiano appears to be the third-string quarterback, though Mullen said he’s excited about his long-term future with the program.
Williams is the veteran of the bunch, but has only one career start which was back in 2013 as a true freshman. The 6-foot-1, 229-pounder redshirted last season.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Fitzgerald completed 11 of 14 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns last year in a reserve role. He said he wasn’t sure who was going to take the first snap against South Alabama, but that it wasn’t particularly important.
“We’re all going to play, we’re all going to get our snaps and show what we can do,” Fitzgerald said.
Williams and Fitzgerald have the unenviable task of trying to replace the departed Dak Prescott, who was easily the most productive quarterback in program history and is now the likely starter for the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
But Prescott wasn’t a star at Mississippi State immediately. He didn’t earn a full-time starting role until his junior season.
Mullen believes both Williams and Fitzgerald have the ability to be productive quarterbacks. He notes that the limited experience both players have provided a lesson on dealing with pressure.
Williams’ only career start was against rival Ole Miss in the 2013 Egg Bowl — a game the Bulldogs won. Fitzgerald was used extensively in a win over Troy last year because Prescott was sick.
“I think both of those guys have been thrown into tough situations, and both performed well in the situations they got thrown into,” Mullen said. “I want to give the guys an opportunity and see how they are going to perform on Saturday.”
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org