HOOVER, ALA. >> Mississippi State enters preseason practice with a four-man quarterback battle. Coach Dan Mullen admits it's not an ideal situation.

"I will be a happy guy to name a starting quarterback and find somebody that has separated themselves from the other three," Mullen said.

So far, the race to replace Dak Prescott has been too close to call. Prescott was easily the most productive quarterback in program history — throwing for more than 9,000 career yards and running for more than 2,500. He threw 70 touchdown passes and ran for 44 more.

He even caught three touchdown passes.

Good luck filling those shoes.

It's safe to say none of the four candidates for the job — sophomores Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley, junior Damian Williams and freshman Nick Tiano — will match Prescott's production right away.

But Mullen and players are confident someone will step forward to keep the Bulldogs competitive in the SEC's Western Division.

"They all bring a little different skill set to the table, but they all can throw and they all can run," Mullen said. "I think when you have that dual threat, it makes the defense have to account for all 11 players on offense on every single snap."

The 6-foot-5 Fitzgerald was Prescott's primary backup in 2015. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Staley and Williams also have some game experience.


"It has definitely been different without Dak," Mississippi State receiver Fred Ross said. "All of the quarterbacks have been working hard and doing things the coaches have asked of them."

Quarterback might be the most high-profile position battle at Mississippi State, but there's also plenty of uncertainty on defense.

The Bulldogs lost their entire defensive coaching staff during the offseason, including coordinator Manny Diaz, who left for Miami. His replacement is Peter Sirmon, who comes to Mississippi State from Southern California.

It's Mississippi State's third defensive coordinator in three years.

The Bulldogs do have several veterans returning on defense, including linebacker Richie Brown, defensive linemen A.J. Jefferson and Nelson Adams and safety Kivon Coman.

Jefferson said learning another defense won't be particularly difficult.

"Playing defense doesn't change," Jefferson said. "Every defensive coordinator we've had come here might dress it up a different way, but it's all the same thing. They want us to be juiced and have energy and just go out there and play."