One quarterback has been given the keys to his team’s offense; the other has had the keys and will be driving the college football equivalent of a sleek Porsche.
For their teams to get where they eventually want to be at the end of the season, Mississippi State’s Tyler Russell and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson best not crash and burn.
Russell, a junior, has been paying his dues with the Bulldogs for three seasons now. He’s been brought along slowly by coach Dan Mulllen, who now says the pieces are in place for him to turn Russell loose on what suddenly has become a pretty good league for quarterbacks. With five senior receivers on the roster, Mullen is confident Russell is ready to take flight.
“I have waited a long time for this,” Russell said. “I have worked very hard and have become a leader on and off the field. It is finally time for me to be that guy.”
If Russell can indeed be “that guy,” the Bulldogs can factor into the SEC West Division race. It’s no secret Mississippi State has had trouble getting over the top in the Mullen era in terms of wins and losses. The Bulldogs are 3-12 against the SEC West while Mullen has been with the program with the only wins coming against Ole Miss. Although many of the losses have been relatively close, Mississippi State hasn’t had the offensive skill set to overtake the division’s elite programs.
Mullen hopes Russell can now be that guy, given he now has experienced playing in virtually every stadium in the league.
“I expect him to have a huge year,” Mullen said. “He started games, so he knows how to handle being a starter. He knows the system and is comfortable in the system. There’s a great deal of trust between him and our coaching staff so that he knows we are going to turn the keys over to him, give him control of the offense.”
To the north and west of Starkville, Wilson, a senior, carries the expectations of a national championship run on his shoulders. Already in the early Heisman Trophy chatter, Wilson hopes to build on last year’s strong campaign.
“I always felt that I had confidence that I could go in and be a successful quarterback in this league,” he said. “This year is a little bit different because I have done it once. Preparation is still the same but your idea and your thought process of it all is a little more understood.”
Coach John L. Smith has seen a change in Wilson.
“There’s a guy that all of a sudden he’s starting to just blossom and exude confidence,” Smith said. “He’s very, very confident and at home in what we are doing on the offensive side of the ball.”
Two quarterbacks. How well they drive will go a long way toward the success or failure of their respective teams.
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or Gregg.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @greggdewalt.