Mississippi State QB battle has expected frontrunner, but competition continues behind him

Leach says one guy is in front, but still much to be decided among Mississippi State quarterbacks.
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It likely comes as no surprise at all, but graduate transfer quarterback K.J. Costello is ahead in the race to be Mississippi State's starting quarterback in 2020. As for the backup role? That still appears to be very much wide open.

Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach met with reporters on Saturday and updated his quarterback situation, giving a glimpse as to where Mississippi State stands with now just under four weeks before the season opener at LSU.

"I think that K.J. is ahead," Leach said. "But we’re trying to see as much as we can out of (Garrett) Shrader and Will (Rogers) at the same time. But again, we’re going to have to pare that down, too."

Costello being on track to be State's QB-1 has been expected by many ever since he said he was leaving Stanford for Starkville last spring. The 6-5, 225-pound veteran passed for 6,151 yards and 49 touchdowns in three seasons with the Cardinal, including a whopping 3,540 passing yards in 2018. Costello was unable to provide Stanford with a similar follow-up campaign as he was hampered by injuries in 2019. But under Leach's Air Raid system, Costello – a traditionally accurate passer that's completed 63 percent of his career throws – could get back to his 2018 form or better.

The surprise to some might be the close competition to be Costello's backup. Less than a year ago, Shrader seemed like the future of Mississippi State football. The now-sophomore still might very well be, but all indications are that he's being pushed by the true freshman, Rogers, for a higher spot on the depth chart.

"I’ve been real impressed with (Rogers' mindset)," Leach said last week. "You know, a freshman comes in, one thing is the reps and the plays, but one of the biggest hurdles sometimes those guys have is the confidence to feel like they belong there and they go out there timid like a freshman. He hasn’t done that. He goes out there and competes like he should be there. I think that’s allowed him to compete even quicker."

One unquestionable edge Shrader has is in the experience department. Shrader appeared in 10 games and made four starts for the Bulldogs last year. He passed for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 587 yards and six more scores. 

That was then though and this is now. Does Shrader have the arm needed to thrive in Leach's Air Raid? Only time will tell.

What's known though is that Leach has long been a fan of Rogers. Even before Leach came to Starkville, back when he was head coach at Washington State, he was trying to lure Rogers to the Pacific Northwest to play for the Cougars. As it turned out, Leach did get Rogers, though it was Leach making the cross-country trek to Mississippi to unite with him.

Now could it be that Rogers, a signal caller that eclipsed 9,000 yards passing in his high school career, is already capable of cracking State's two-deep depth chart?

The upcoming weeks of camp will ultimately decide that. Until then, Costello is leading the pack, Shrader and Rogers will continue the fight for the backup role, and – at least currently – it appears all other MSU quarterbacks have faded into the background. That includes Jalen Mayden, who is now in his third year with the program.

Things could certainly change in the days and weeks ahead. And even when Leach settles on things, he might wait to announce any type of final decisions. After all, he's only a couple of weeks removed from saying it may be late September before he officially names a starter.

"I doubt that we will (have a starting quarterback named) until maybe as late as the week before (the first game)," Leach said earlier this month. "I hope it doesn’t extend that far, but it certainly could. So, we’re trying to roll them through as we can in these practices, get the best look that we can."

Coaches are paid to make tough decisions. And Leach certainly seems to have difficult ones, not only at quarterback, but in several spots on the State depth chart.

"This is different that a P.E. contest," Leach said Saturday. "You’ve got to invest the reps in the guys who are going to be important to you to go out there and win."

Keep it tuned to Sports Illustrated's Cowbell Corner for further coverage of Mississippi State training camp in the weeks ahead. To follow along on Cowbell Corner and comment on articles and participate in the community, simply sign up, get a username and chime in with your thoughts and questions. Also, be sure to follow Cowbell Corner on Twitter (@SIBulldogs) by clicking here, and like it on Facebook by clicking here. Thank you for coming to Cowbell Corner for coverage of Mississippi State sports.