Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott passes during drills.STARKVILLE – The August 10 edition of Sports Illustrated featured Dak Prescott holding Mississippi State’s mascot, Jak, in his left arm.Prescott’s second appearance on the cover symbolizes the upcoming season.Expectations haven’t budged from Mississippi State’s 10-win 2014, despite losing 15 starters. To reach the peak of college football again, the Southeastern Conference’s best player will have to carry the Bulldogs through portions of the season.“He’s coaching them, and they don’t want to let him down,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “And it really raises their level of play.”Prescott is one of four starters returning on offense, along with Justin Malone, Justin Senior and De’Runnya Wilson.Wilson and Prescott connected 47 times last year for 680 yards and nine touchdowns. As a sophomore, Wilson led the team in each category.“He’s got great hands, but he’s improved his knowledge of the game,” Prescott said. “He knows a lot more about the game. He’s kind of fresh to the game, but knowing how guys are going to play him, he’s changing up his routes.”Fred Ross joins Wilson as the only returning players who finished within the top five in catches and receiving yards on the team. Ross, who was second on the team, caught 32 passes for 489 yards.Those numbers could explode this year with defenses focused on Wilson and Fred Brown or Joe Morrow at the other starting wide-out spot. Brown and Morrow finished with more catches and yards than last year’s starter Robert Johnson.“Somebody’s gotta step up on the offensive side for us, come out and be able to replace that guy,” MSU wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales said.There is a trio of running backs competing to replace Josh Robinson’s 1,573 total yards. Ashton Shumpert began taking carries away from Robinson during the final two regular season games.Redshirt freshmen Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams pushed Shumpert through the spring. Lee amassed 217 yards rushing with seven receptions for 52 yards and five touchdowns, and Williams rushed for 186 yards and nearly 100 yards receiving with two touchdowns.“That really helped. You see a lot of people in the stands,” Williams said. “Even though it was the spring game you see a lot of people out there. You’re like, ‘Wow, you really made it to Mississippi State.’ It was a dream come true.”The answers become more limited regarding those bodies protecting Prescott and creating lanes for the backs. Gus Walley is the only Bulldog tight end with a career reception. He’ll be asked to replace Malcolm Johnson’s 28 catches for 370 yards.MSU also needs replacements for three starters along the offensive line, including center Dillon Day, guard Ben Beckwith and tackle Blaine Clausell.“Young people learn from watching the past and go off what was successful,” MSU offensive lineman John Hevesy said. “The bigger thing is how did they do things? How did they work? What did they do to prepare for a game or practice?”There likely is no better mentor for young players than Prescott. The quarterback enters his fifth season with the Bulldogs. He set 12 school records a year ago and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting.One season doesn’t lend success to the next, but one player’s success could catapult Mississippi State back to the upper echelon of the SEC.“I think it raises the level of play,” Mullen said. “He has so much respect for what he’s done on the field, that younger guys really look up to him.”Contact Michael Bonner at [email protected] Follow @MikeBBonner on Twitter.