Senior quarterbacks take center stage in Belk Bowl

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, December 30, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Belk Bowl features two senior quarterbacks who are among the most selfish in college football — although not in the way you might think.

Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett rarely turn the ball over with both ranking among the nation’s best in fewest interceptions thrown.

Of the 44 FBS quarterbacks who have attempted at least 350 passes, Brissett, Prescott, Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and Miami’s Brad Kaaya are the only ones with four or fewer interceptions.

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“You’re looking at two guys who execute their offenses very well, but also two guys that can execute outside of the offense,” said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. “When the offense breaks down they can improvise on their own and make things happen. It should make it an exciting matchup.”

North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said stopping Prescott is the Wolfpack’s No. 1 goal.

And with good reason.

Prescott is one of only four quarterbacks since 1990 to be named first-team All-SEC in back-to-back seasons, joining an elite group that includes Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow and Shane Matthews.

He has a combined 35 touchdowns, and leads the SEC in completions, completion percentage, yards passing and touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also attempted 38 more carries than leading running back Brandon Holloway, and he attempted nearly 39 passes per game

“The guy is a great player,” Doeren said. “Anytime you play a team that has a great quarterback with his type of experience and his production, that’s going to be the reason they’re that good.”

Prescott said he’s anxious to end his career with a win.

“I have thought about this being my last game, but it hasn’t made me emotional,” Prescott said. “I don’t know if it’s truly hit me.”

The Wolfpack has one of the most versatile athletes in Jaylen Samuels. Sometimes he lines up at tight end. Other times he’s a running back. Either way, Samuels has been hard to stop. He finished the regular season as the Wolfpack’s leading receiver with 64 catches, the most by a tight end in the nation. He also ranks as the Wolfpack’s third-leading rusher with 315 yards.

“He could probably play a lot more positions,” Brissett said. “I’m just glad that he’s on our team.”

The forecast for Charlotte on Wednesday is steady rain, which could make for an added emphasis on running the football and might play to North Carolina State’s advantage.

The Wolfpack averages more than 200 yards rushing per game. Prescott said regardless of the weather he plans to air it out.

“You try to keep your dry and not really think about it,” Prescott said. “You have to grip the ball like you normally would and it usually works out.”

Mississippi State wide receivers Fred Ross and De’Runnya Wilson have become huge weapons for the Bulldogs on the outside. Ross has four straight 100-yard receiving games and is just shy of 1,000 yards on the season with 822 yards.

The Bulldogs don’t have much of a rushing game outside of Prescott.

Special teams also seem to play a factor in bowl games, and the Wolfpack has shown a penchant for big plays in the return game.

Junior Bra’Lon Cherry currently ranks third in the ACC and ninth in the FBS in punt return average with a 13.3 mark, while freshman Nyheim Hines ranks fourth in the ACC and 14th in the FBS in kickoff returns at 27.3 yards per return.

This year’s Belk Bowl will mark the first of three matchups between the two teams in the next six years. NC State and Mississippi State have scheduled a home and home series in the next few years.