The last thing Jason Garrett wants is yet another 8-8 on his resume but if he can pull another .500 red-headed bunny out of his bag of cliches for the fourth time in his coaching career he truly will be a magician.
The Dallas Cowboys begin their 2016 season on Sunday at Jerry World against Payton Manning’s little brother and the New York Giants.
With Tony Romo out nursing what feels like his 10th back surgery, the Cowboys are about two rookies in the backfield - the fourth pick in the draft, running back Ezekial Elliot, and a fourth round pick from Mississippi State, quarterback Dak Prescott.
History, and all sorts of depressing evidence, says the Cowboys are doomed this season without Romo and handing the keys to Jerry’s mansion to a rookie passer says to reach 8-8 would be a real life fantasy football.
In an effort to find hope there is this: Dak Prescott won at Mississippi State. Do you know how hard that is?
In the Bulldogs’ first game without Dak, they lost at home against something called Alabama State by one point.
“He was here for five-and-a-half years,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said during the SEC Coaches Conference Call this week. “He brought such great leadership to the team. When you have a guy who is such an Alpha dog and a strong leader, guys look for that leadership.”
And when that leadership (and talent) are gone it creates a tremendous void for a new team, even moreso at a place like Mississippi State where competing against pseudo-pro teams like Alabama, LSU and Auburn, among others, can be a beating.
In the previous two years with Prescott as the starting quarterback, the Bulldodgs were 19-7. At one point in 2013, they were actually the top ranked team in the nation - that’s like swimming from Los Angeles to Japan without a break; it’s not impossible, but it’s really hard.
In 2014, the Bulldogs won 10 games; it was their second 10-win season since 1941. Dak followed that with a nine-win season as a senior. Since ‘41, the Bulldogs had had five of those.
This was all in the SEC West.
There were other players in Starkville, obviously, but few men could do what Dak Prescott did at a program that historically has been, at best, middle of the SEC.
So perhaps, maybe, the Cowboys are not completely drunk on Delusional and Dak can be an effective replacement for Tony Romo both now, and for the future. That is the hope for this season and beyond, and easily the most intriguing aspect to the Cowboys this year.
“He’s a guy that went through five years of college; he didn’t jump early and go to the NFL,” Mullen said when I asked him what attributes Prescott had that would allow him to make this transition successfully. “He stayed. He developed. He had highs and lows in college. He was able to grow and mature.
“One of the things for him here was he got to learn you are as good as your last play, or last game. Understanding that he was able to cope with all of the outside attention and focus on doing his job to lead the game, and that team, to win. When you grasp that you have an opportunity to be successful. He’s not going to hear too much of the noise or buzz, good or bad, and keep his head straight on.”
The level and noise and buzz that comes with playing for the Dallas Cowboys is considerably louder, and more ridiculous, than that of a college team.
But in an effort to extract hope out of a dire situation - a rookie replacing Tony Romo as the starting quarterback - we have this: Dak Prescott was a winner at Mississippi State, and no one should take for granted just how hard that is.