Life without Dak Prescott for Mississippi State and 10 more irreplaceable players

ByEDWARD ASCHOFF via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
March 16, 2016, 10:52 AM

&#151; -- Mississippi State quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson knows all too well the current situation facing his crop of quarterbacks.

Back in 2005, Johnson was a player tasked with replacing one of Utah's greatest players in Alex Smith, who left school early for the NFL after guiding the Utes to a 12-0 season and a blowout win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl during his Heisman Trophy finalist campaign.

The future No. 1 pick left an iconic footprint in Salt Lake City, but Johnson made his own way by winning another BCS bowl game, finishing his career with the most wins by a Utah quarterback (26) and finding himself on the cover of EA Sports' NCAA Football video game.

Now, it's time for Coach Johnson to find the next Brian Johnson to step in for the renowned Dak Prescott.

"It's a process," Johnson said. "The biggest thing is you don't do it in one year. You have to continue to build your talent pool and build your cupboard."

That cupboard features junior Damian Williams, redshirt sophomores Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley, and redshirt freshman Nick Tiano.

What it doesn't have is Prescott, Mississippi State's most decorated player with 38 school records. The two-time All-SEC quarterback was eighth in the Heisman voting in 2014 and helped direct the Bulldogs to their first-ever No. 1 ranking.

Prescott went 19-7 as a starter in his last two years. He was one of four players in FBS history and the second player in SEC history to throw for 70 touchdowns and rush for 40 touchdowns in a career. He's one of 10 players in FBS history and the second player in SEC history to pass for 8,500 yards and rush for 2,000 yards. He accounted for 114 career touchdowns (fourth in SEC history) and registered 11,897 yards of total offense (third in SEC history).

"He had everything you looked for [in a quarterback]," Johnson said. "He carried himself extremely well and he played extremely well. He's probably my favorite player I've ever coached in my young coaching career."

In other words, Prescott left giant cleats to fill. In even more words, one does not merely replace Dak Prescott.

Honestly, you can't find the perfect replacement for the school's former ambassador, and it isn't fair to build in that direction. Prescott's play in Starkville changed this football program forever and it would be a disservice to say his coaches can just replace him.

(Those in Starkville continue to speak of Prescott in glowing terms even after his weekend arrest on a DUI charge.)

Prescott was unique because he was constructed from the ground up, yet turned into a star. Dan Mullen and his coaches have done well with development, but Mississippi State doesn't have the brand like Alabama to constantly bring in stars, let alone replace them.

While Derrick Henry just enjoyed the best season ever by an Alabama running back, the Crimson Tide have the ability to replace him with players like Bo Scarbrough in a heartbeat. Nick Chubb easily replaced Todd Gurley at Georgia and Jalen Tabor will step right in for former multi-time All-American Vernon Hargreaves III at Florida.

Mississippi State doesn't have that luxury, but it does have four quarterbacks who have watched, worked with and learned from Prescott. There's experience with both Fitzgerald and Williams, and Johnson sees plenty of upside in Staley and Tiano. Fitzgerald is the early favorite, but his extensive work came against Troy in 2015.

In the end, none of these players is Prescott, but, then again, who could be?

"We're as prepared as we possibly can be for the departure of Dak," Johnson said.

***

Mississippi State isn't the only program dealing with legendary withdrawals in 2016. There are some other irreplaceable players that have left teams with giant holes that must somehow be filled or just simply managed.

Here are 10 more of the nation's most irreplaceable players from last season:

Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

While backup Bram Kohlhausen performed admirably in place of the suspended Boykin in TCU's bowl win, replacing him in the long run sounds incredibly daunting. Boykin set school records for total yards (12,777), passing yards (10,728), passing touchdowns (86) and touchdowns responsible for (114).

Jeremy Cash, S, Duke

All the All-ACC and All-American did was register 335 tackles, 38 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, and nine forced fumbles in 44 career games. Who cares that he only had five career interceptions; he totaled 18 tackles for loss last year ... as a defensive back.

Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

Cook garnered legendary status by becoming the winningest quarterback in school history with 34 wins (23 vs. Big Ten). He won two Big Ten championships and is the school-record holder for touchdowns passes (71), passing yards (9,194) and total offense (9,403).

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

No one wears a jersey like him, and it's going to be hard to find someone who can run as violently and block as fiercely. He had the most rushing yards in school history in consecutive seasons with 3,699 from 2014-15 and rushed for at least 100 yards in 22 games, including 12 times in 2015.

Tom Hackett, P, Utah

This is no regular punter. Hackett was a 12th defender in a two-time Ray Guy Award winner's body with a career punt average of 45.2, a school-record 68 punts of 50-plus yards and had four punts of 70-plus yards. He placed 43.8 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, including 51 inside the 10 and 21 inside the 5.

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

One of the most versatile players of his time and a defensive game-changer, Jack could explosively and powerfully stuff the run, drop back in coverage, get to quarterbacks and even run the ball. His college career was cut short by an early injury last season, but he registered 163 tackles (15 for loss) and 18 passes defended in his first two years.

Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple

Matakevich won the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurksi Trophy last year. He was the only FBS player to lead his team in tackles every game last season and eclipsed 100-plus tackles for the fourth season, becoming just the seventh NCAA player to ever achieve that.

Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State

Ogbah became Oklahoma State's first Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2014 and then became the Cowboys' first Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference with 13 sacks and was second with 17.5 tackles for loss. He registered 24 sacks (18.5 vs Big 12) and 34.5 TFLs in his last two seasons.

Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

The franchise left tackle surrendered his two sacks in three seasons and will likely be the No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft. Freshman Greg Little will be groomed to take over, but it will be incredibly tough for him to make the immediate impact Tunsil did as a true freshman. In the seven games Tunsil didn't play in in 2015, Ole Miss rushed and passed for nearly 100 fewer yards and gave up three sacks per game.

Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona

Two-Star Scooby had one of the sport's most prolific defensive seasons in 2014, winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Rotary Lombardi Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award. He accumulated -- wait for it --163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and 14 sacks. Arizona's defense collapsed when injuries shortened his 2015 season (six losses, 453.8 ypg and 34 ppg in 10 games), but he returned to register 15 tackles, three for loss, and two sacks in Arizona's bowl game.

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