Bulldog bio: Nick Fitzgerald

MSU's Nick Fitzgerald
By: 
JOEL COLEMAN
Staff Writer

Nick Fitzgerald was faced with arguably the toughest task of any Mississippi State player in any sport in all of history last season.
The tall, athletic quarterback was assigned with trying to replace the most decorated signal caller to ever wear maroon and white – Dak Prescott.
By almost any measure, Fitzgerald exceeded expectations. Though still raw and with room to grow, Fitzgerald enters this season as one of the top quarterbacks in the entire Southeastern Conference.

What we know

Fitzgerald has proven to be a game-changer for the Bulldogs.
As a sophomore last season, Fitzgerald started all 13 MSU games and was the SEC’s leader in total offensive yards. Though Fitzgerald threw for 2,423 of those yards, his biggest strength is unquestionably his rushing ability. He ran for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns a year ago.
Fitzgerald is a rare talent on the ground. He has the size and strength to muscle forward for short yardage, however he proved numerous times in 2016 he has breakaway speed that can lead to long gains.

What we don't know

Maybe the biggest question surrounding Fitzgerald is whether or not he can grow in the passing game.
Sure, he can already hurt opponents with his arm. His passing yardage total was the fourth-best in MSU history in 2016.
Still, Fitzgerald has room to develop with both his accuracy and decision making. Take the spring game for example. Fitzgerald threw four interceptions in the outing.
Odds are that Fitzgerald will improve through the air though. Recent history supports that. Whether it was former MSU quarterbacks Chris Relf, or Prescott, Bulldogs head coach and quarterbacking guru Dan Mullen has displayed a knack for honing players’ passing games.

Notable

Fitzgerald is already garnering national attention. Sports Illustrated included Fitzgerald as one of the best 100 players in college football entering the season. Fitzgerald came in at No. 97 on the list. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson says Fitzgerald’s dual-threat playmaking will give SEC defensive coordinators headaches throughout the fall.
Perhaps the highest praise of all nationally comes from ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill. Luginbill noted on Twitter earlier this month that he believes Fitzgerald will eventually rise to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.

The best case

The best case for MSU is that Fitzgerald continues to grow and becomes Prescott-like for the Bulldogs.
He has already blown past several of Prescott’s school records. One thing Fitzgerald hasn’t done that Prescott did though is push MSU up amongst the SEC’s elite. He’ll need help from MSU’s defense to get there, but if the Bulldogs are stout defensively and Fitzgerald has progressed from last year, State could make quite a bit of noise in 2017.

The worst case

One of Fitzgerald’s primary receiving targets of a year ago, Fred Ross, is no longer with MSU.
With Ross gone, Fitzgerald has one less go-to guy when he looks to throw. MSU has plenty of receiving options left, but Fitzgerald and Ross seemed to have a special chemistry.
It’s at least feasible that Fitzgerald’s passing game could take a step back with Ross gone.
There’s also the pressure of expectations surrounding Fitzgerald now. Very few expected Fitzgerald to shine like he did a season ago. Now that he has, everyone has taken notice and expects even bigger things. Will Fitzgerald crumble under the weight of that, or will it push him to be even better?
Fitzgerald is no secret to SEC coaches now. They’ll all head into every game against MSU specifically planning to slow Fitzgerald down. He’ll have to prove he is able to adjust, or else State’s offense could be left spinning its wheels.

(Editor's Note: Leading up to the start of Mississippi State football training camp on July 25, the Starkville Daily News will take a look at several of the key pieces for the 2017 Bulldogs. Today kicked off with quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.)

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