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Over 3 years, Dak Prescott grew into the role of Mississippi State's best QB ever

Wednesday's bowl story lines were dominated by quarterbacks, from Lamar Jackson's coming out party, to Dak Prescott's final act, to Paxton Lynch's Birmingham struggles. Catch up on Bill's series of one takeaway for each bowl here.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2015 Bowl Calendar

1. 227 through the air, 226 on the ground

When Lamar Jackson is looking to the sideline for a play call, he looks coiled, like he's frustrated that he has to stand in one spot. He rocks back and forth, crouched forward, ready to run somewhere.

The Louisville quarterback's full-speed-at-all-times style reminds you that he's a true freshman. He's not much for finesse in his passing. The ball's going to get to its destination as quickly as it can, whether it should or not. And as we saw at times in 2015, sometimes running means taking sacks.

But in Wednesday's Music City Bowl, we saw ridiculous potential Jackson. He may take too many sacks, and he may need to work on finesse, but with these deficiencies, he still managed to throw for 227 yards and rush for 226 in a 27-21 win over Texas A&M.

Though A&M's quarterback situation is commanding most of the pregame headlines -- Kyle Allen and Kyler Murphy both elected to transfer, leaving junior Jake Hubenak as basically the only option (Hubenak was okay: 28-of-48 passing for 307 yards and two touchdowns, but with an interception and five sacks) -- Louisville's took over. His game hasn't yet grown into his body, and he still managed something (200 passing and rushing yards in a bowl game) that only Johnny Manziel and Vince Young had done.

Louisville began the year with three quarterbacks, none really separating himself. Jackson and sophomores Kyle Bolin and Reggie Bonnafon each took snaps early in the season, and each showed scattershot results. By the end of the season, Jackson was the Cardinals' leading passer and rusher. He wasn't incredible through the air, but your arm only needs to be so good when your legs can run that fast.

The next steps in Jackson's growth as a quarterback are obvious. But so is the potential. Rarely has a running quarterback been able to run like THIS, and even while working through growing pains, he managed remarkable moments.

2. A 380-yard finale

In his first sustained action, in the 2013 season opener, Dak Prescott completed 7 of 17 passes with an interception against Oklahoma State. Two games later, he threw for 213 yards and rushed for 133 against Auburn. Then, he completed 9 of 20 passes against LSU. Rushed for 139 against Bowling Green. Threw three picks against South Carolina. Rushed for 154 against Texas A&M.

Prescott's promise was as obvious as his inconsistency, and that continued even as Mississippi State was putting together an historic 10-win campaign in 2014. He threw two interceptions each in wins over Auburn and Arkansas and three in a loss to Alabama. He would make two awful decisions per game, and if those mistakes weren't too crippling, he would be good enough to carry you to victory.

The mistakes went from trickle to drip in 2015. Prescott didn't throw his first interception until Oct. 24. In a driving rainstorm against a good Missouri defense, he completed 27 of 40 passes with four touchdowns. He all but put the team on his back in a 51-50 win over Arkansas that featured five touchdown passes and a 190.3 passer rating. His supporting cast wasn't as good as it was in 2014, but Prescott was better.

He did throw his fifth interception of the season in MSU's 51-28 Belk Bowl win over NC State on a sloppy track in Charlotte. But he was otherwise almost perfect. He completed 25 of 42 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns, and not including one sack, he rushed 11 times for 49 tough yards. He manipulated the chess board with ease, using the threat of his legs to move defenders out of position, then making tough throws everywhere. And he spread the ball around beautifully -- seven players caught at least two passes.

A run-first quarterback with a powerful arm, Prescott turned into Mississippi State's best quarterback ever. He finishes with more than 9,300 passing yards and 2,400 rushing yards, and in his final two seasons, he led MSU to a 19-7 record and what will almost certainly be back-to-back top-25 F/+ rankings. Backup Nick Fitzgerald looked pretty good in limited action in 2015, but the bar heading into 2016 is absurdly high.


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3. 2.4 yards per pass attempt

Not every career finale gets to be memorable, I guess. USC's Cody Kessler passed 10,000 career passing yards in the Pac-12 title game against Stanford, and he put together a solid career despite NCAA sanctions (and coaching issues) lingering around the Trojans program like a bad cough. But while his final game, a 23-21 Holiday Bowl loss to Wisconsin, wasn't bad, it wasn't good enough.

Kessler completed 18 of 32 passes for 221 yards, a touchdown, and a pick, but the interception came late in the fourth quarter, and his night will be remembered mostly for getting sacked by Jack Cichy on three consecutive plays late in the third quarter. (Cichy also forced the interception.)

That series personified Kessler's biggest weakness (he's too slow in his decision making at times and takes a lot of sacks -- 38 in 2015) and USC's. The Trojan line was young and held USC's offense back, particularly in losses to Washington and Wisconsin.

Whoever succeeds Kessler will have a wonderful set of skill position players, but USC's success will be determined not by the new QB, but by the offensive line and a retooled defense.

4. At least Kessler didn't go out like Paxton Lynch

Assuming Memphis' quarterback declares for the NFL Draft, his final game will go down as one of his worst. In a 31-10 Birmingham Bowl loss to Auburn, Lynch was inaccurate, under duress and done no favors by his receivers (or game plan). Lynch completed only 16 of 37 passes for 108 yards, an interception and two sacks. Most of his completions were sideline passes that went nowhere, and he struggled to hit marks downfield.

An Auburn defense that couldn't rush the passer or slow down efficient offenses did both at Legion Field. Interim defensive coordinator Lance Thompson's game plan was aggressive, but really, Auburn spent much of the game simply getting out of Memphis' way. Memphis committed four offensive penalties, and a passive game plan meant constant second- and third-and-longs for an out-of-sorts Lynch.

Auburn's quarterback difficulties (Sean White threw two awful first-half interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Reggis Ball, who made a name for himself in a different way after the game) kept the game close for a while. It was tied at 10-10 at halftime, and Auburn led by only seven heading into the fourth. Memphis showed no hope of ever getting things figured out on offense -- the same offense that torched Ole Miss got destroyed by a much less successful Auburn D -- and the AAC's bad bowl season continued.

5. Three head coaches, 31 wins

Joel Stave threw for at least 1,000 yards in four different seasons while wearing a Wisconsin jersey. He was banged up often, made his share of mistakes and dealt with two head coaching changes (from Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen in 2013, then from Andersen to Paul Chryst in 2015).

But in Stave's four seasons of at least sharing QB duties, Wisconsin went 37-16. Stave was the starter for 31 of those wins. He wasn't usually the primary reason, but when healthy, he was a frequently decent signal caller.

In his final game, he outplayed Kessler. As was often the case in 2015, the Wisconsin run game worked only so well -- Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale rushed 32 times for 116 yards, a mediocre 3.6 yards per carry. But Stave completed two-thirds of his passes (18 of 27) for 217 yards, a touchdown and no picks. And in Wisconsin's five scoring drives (three field goals, two touchdowns), he was huge: 12-of-17 passes for 177 yards. He even led the game-winning field goal drive after getting his nose busted up on the previous possession.

Stave wasn't an all-time great, but his final performance allowed Wisconsin to reach 10 wins in what felt like a rebuilding year.