LITTLE ROCK — Trying to figure how the heck Mississippi State ascended to the top of the college football world, recruiting was the logical place to start.

LITTLE ROCK — Trying to figure how the heck Mississippi State ascended to the top of the college football world, recruiting was the logical place to start.

The guess was that the Bulldogs had signed quality athletes the last few years, but that their recruiting success was overshadowed by the gaudy rankings of the classes of Alabama, Florida, and others in the SEC.


The Bulldogs’ 2014 class was No. 36, according to ESPN, and their ’13 class was No. 25. Each of the three years previous, MSU did not crack the top 25 — a shock to somebody who has come to believe that Arkansas must recruit better to compete with the best in the Western Division of the SEC.

Digging deeper, surely a four- or five-star Dak Prescott was buried in one of those mundane classes.

Wrong, again.

According to ESPN, Prescott was the No. 41 quarterback in the class of 2011.

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was No. 1 and Kiel Frazier of Springdale, who transferred from Auburn to Ouachita Baptist University, was No. 2.

Projections on others were more accurate, including Braxton Miller of Ohio State and Brett Hundley of UCLA in the top 10.

That same year, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen was No. 30 and Auburn’s Nick Marshall was No. 31. I had to Google TCU’s Trevone Boykin (21 touchdowns, three interceptions) to find he was No. 118.

Certainly, MSU’s success is not founded in a long-standing winning tradition.

Since the turn of the century, the Bulldogs have not done better than 4-4 in SEC play and they have been 2-6 or worse eight times.

Although distinctive, MSU’s cowbells don’t match the ambiance of the other No. 1 teams that have played Arkansas since 1996. Alabama, Florida, LSU, USC, and Tennessee conjure statutes of Bear Bryant and Nick Saban, chomp-chomp in the swamp, "Mike" the Tiger, the bright lights of Hollywood, and 100,000-plus fans.

MSU’s stadium seats barely 61,000, about the size of the announced crowd for Arkansas’ homecoming game against Alabama-Birmingham.

How about the Dan Mullen factor?

He has guided the Bulldogs to four straight bowl games for the first time in school history, but they were second-tier games at best, and MSU was 2-21 vs. top 10 opponents until this year. There was even some talk that Mullen saved his job by beating Arkansas and Ole Miss in overtime in the final two games of 2013.

The cop-out is to apply the perfect storm label to 7-0.

For something more precise, zero in on Prescott.

Sharing the pressbox elevator in Starkville with a man in a maroon sport coat, I heard about Prescott for the first time two years ago. Tyler Russell’s four-touchdown performance vs. Arkansas was only 90 minutes old and all this guy could talk about was a freshman named Jack or Zack who was going to lead the Bulldogs to the mountaintop.

Sorry, sir, for dismissing you as an overzealous fan.

A strong-arm passer and a 235-pound load on the run, Prescott is at or near the top of most Heisman Trophy lists. His 60 percent completion rate and 15 TD passes vs. five interceptions are very similar to Allen’s stats, but his legs set him apart and the boot he wore on his left foot after the Kentucky game raises questions about how much he will run against Arkansas on Saturday.

In five of the last six games, he has carried a minimum of 18 times, netting 77 to 121 yards vs. four straight SEC opponents. Although he missed two games last year, Prescott led the team in rushing with 829 yards.

On Tuesday, he blew off the boot thing, saying he was wearing it for fashion. Asked if he tweaked an ankle or foot, Prescott said, "I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out."

If Prescott can’t run the ball, Arkansas’ chances of winning go from 10 percent to 35 percent.


Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: