Three of the last five Heisman Trophy winners have come from the SEC, and there will be no shortage of stars next season in the mix for college football's most prestigious individual award.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and South Carolina running back Mike Davis are just a few SEC stars who'll be in the preseason discussion for the Heisman.
If you're looking for a dark-horse contender, direct your attention to Starkville, Miss., and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott.
The 6'2", 230-pound rising junior burst onto the scene as a sophomore, first as a reserve in place of injured starter Tyler Russell and eventually as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback. He completed 58.4 percent of his passes (156-of-267) for 1,940 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven picks in 11 games, adding 829 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
His season culminated with a sizzling performance versus Rice in the Liberty Bowl in which he passed for 283 yards, rushed for 78 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in a 44-7 win—Mississippi State's third straight win to close the season.
Not a bad debut, but even more impressive considering he was widely regarded as head coach Dan Mullen's second-team quarterback until Russell left the season-opening loss to Oklahoma State with a head injury.
Mississippi State adjusted to Prescott on the fly during his successful sophomore season, and now Prescott has an entire offseason with many of the same pieces to fine-tune his game as the unquestioned starter.
More importantly, Mullen has an entire offseason to fine-tune his offense to Prescott.
If there is a weak spot in Prescott's game, it's his efficiency. He finished last season with a rating of 126.58, which ranked 11th in the SEC. But Mullen was hired to bring his offense to Mississippi State from Florida, and he was successful at Florida specifically because of his ability to produce efficient offenses.
Florida led the SEC and finished in the top five nationally in passing efficiency in 2007 and 2008, per CFBstats.com. Yes, the Gators had quarterback Tim Tebow running the show and a litany of superstars on offense, and no, Prescott isn't Tebow.
But the rising junior can look like Tebow at times, and that's incredibly important for the Bulldogs because it allows Mullen to do what he was brought to Starkville to do—run an offense similar to the one that made Florida successful.
Plus, Prescott's a quarterback and that's incredibly beneficial in the race for the Heisman.
Only twice since 2000 have non-quarterbacks won the Heisman Trophy, and one of those later returned his to the Heisman Trust (Reggie Bush, 2005). The glamour award is for the glamour position, and Prescott is one of the best in the SEC.
But can Mississippi State win enough for him to get into serious consideration?
That's what will relegate Prescott to being a dark-horse contender rather than a front-runner this offseason.
Is Dak Prescott a dark horse Heisman candidate?
With eight players returning on offense and a defense that's staying largely intact, the Bulldogs will come back as one of the most experienced teams in the SEC West. If they can ride this wave of offseason momentum generated from a 7-6 season, get a couple of upsets and finish with eight regular-season wins with the possibility of a ninth in the bowl game, will that get Prescott enough exposure?
It's hard to say without knowing what goes on with other key contenders around the rest of the country. If it shakes out like the 2013 season, when Jameis Winston was the only real constant in the Heisman race, eight regular-season wins certainly should keep Prescott's Heisman chances alive.
Keep an eye on Prescott during the 2014 season. He may not start out on many Heisman boards, but could make his way into the discussion as the season goes on.