Maty Mauk is the future at quarterback for Missouri, and after starter James Franklin left Saturday's upset win at Georgia, it appears that the future is now.
Franklin exited the game with a shoulder injury, which CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman reports is a Grade 2 separation that will keep him out for a minimum of six weeks:
#Mizzou QB James Franklin is expected to be out for at least the next 6 wks, probably longer w a Grade 2 shoulder separation, per source.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) October 12, 2013
Mauk entered the game in the fourth quarter and did just enough to salt the victory, completing all three of his passes for 23 yards and rushing for 12 more. The Tigers improved to 6-0, and anyone who is undefeated this late in the season needs to be considered a genuine BCS threat.
But with a redshirt freshman that's barely played at this level being forced to start at quarterback for the foreseeable future, will Missouri be able to overcome the odds and compete in the SEC?
Let's meet the man whose play might decide the answer.
As a Prospect
The younger brother of Ben Mauk, a successful quarterback at Cincinnati, Maty was a one of the best players in Ohio during his time at Kenton High School.
He was a 4-star prospect on the 247Sports composite in 2012, ranking No. 319 in the nation and No. 7 among dual-threat quarterbacks.
Of the six players listed ahead of him at the position, only two—Jameis Winston and Tommy Armstrong—have made a tangible impact at the FBS level. But others like Chad Kelly at Clemson and Cyler Miles at Washington are stuck behind great quarterbacks and might have a chance to soon.
Being ranked so highly was a vote of confidence in Mauk, whom scouts saw as a dynamic athlete with size enough (6'2'', 200 lbs.) to become a productive college QB. Notre Dame and Michigan, two of America's biggest recruiting powerhouses, both offered him a scholarship in addition to Missouri and seven other schools.
ESPN's Recruiting Nation lauded Mauk's competitiveness and intangibles, but took issue with his footwork and throwing mechanics:
Fundamentally Mauk needs refinement to enhance accuracy and consistent footwork...
He has a quick delivery and the ball really pops off his hand, but you do notice him cock the ball back prior to delivery which is wasted motion...
After redshirting last season, Mauk has now been coached up for more than a year. If Missouri's staff has done a good job fixing those problems—which usually come with time for young QBs—there's no reason Mauk can't run the offense.
Confidence From Coaches and Teammates
It seems unthinkable now, after watching how well Franklin performed this season, but Mauk had a chance to seize the starting job out of fall camp.
That's how much Missouri likes him.
Head coach Gary Pinkel opened up the starting job in the preseason, giving Mauk and fellow backup Corbin Berkstresser a chance to unseat Franklin. Obviously that didn't happen, but the way Franklin was playing, a lot of capable players would have failed to beat him for a job.
And the fact that Mauk earned second-string duty over Berkstresser, an older and more experienced player, is quite encouraging.
Of Mauk's offseason work ethic and improvement, offensive coordinator Josh Henson had this to say, according to Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas-City Star:
I saw the kid in here all summer long. Whenever I came in the office, he was in here watching film, studying and learning plays and looking at reads and different defenses. So I think the kid really committed himself to the mental part of the game.
That effort was rewarded when, according to the program's official website, he was named the spring's most improved QB. But it's not just coaches who have confidence in Mauk; his teammates have faith in him too.
After the length of Franklin's injury was announced, Missouri's star receiver L'Damian Washington expressed his support of the young QB:
L Washington on Mauk: "I've got faith in Maty Mauk. ...He's going to step up. He has to lead this team right now. He doesn't have a choice."— Vahe Gregorian (@vgregorian) October 12, 2013
Now it's time for Mauk to reward their faith and prove them right.
Can He Keep Missouri in the SEC Title Hunt?
It's tough to say how Mauk will fare this season.
Little was expected from Missouri in 2013, so in truth, the Tigers are playing with house money. Unless things go horribly off the rails, this year should still be considered a success.
Still, after watching them dismantle No. 7 Georgia on the road, it's hard not to dream big about the Tigers. They have enough offensive talent to go up with anyone in America, and the defense makes timely stops when it needs to.
Here is Missouri's remaining schedule:
|Oct. 19||vs. Florida|
|Oct. 26||vs. South Carolina|
|Nov. 2||vs. Tennessee|
|Nov. 9||at Kentucky|
|Nov. 23||at Ole Miss|
|Nov. 30||vs. Texas A&M|
Missouri gets the three hardest teams on its schedule—Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M—in Columbia, where a solid home crowd should give it an advantage. It also gets a bye before its toughest road game, at Ole Miss, which will help it out dearly in Oxford.
Mauk won't need to set the world on fire to navigate that docket. He has enough talent around him in Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham, Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy to merely manage the offense and keep drives moving.
Who Will Win the SEC East?
His ability to scramble should be his best friend in the early going, especially next week against Florida, when broken plays will be needed against one of America's best defenses. And getting three home games in a row before having to start on the road should prepare him to keep succeeding.
That Mauk is so mobile should help the offense keep continuity. It ran a spread-option attack under Franklin and won't need to alter that game-plan now that Franklin is gone.
The wheels will keep on turning; just now, there's a new driver behind the wheel.
With a less favorable schedule, the answer to this question might be an easy "no." Mauk wouldn't be able to lead this team on an SEC-title pursuit; he's not ready to be thrown into the fire and beat multiple ranked teams on the road.
But with all of his biggest games at home and an early jump on Mizzou's SEC East competitors—all of whom have at least one conference loss—there's a chance Mauk can keep Cinderella dancing.