Missouri came out of nowhere in 2013 to win the SEC East and give Auburn all it could handle in the SEC Championship Game. A dominating pass rush, ball-hawking secondary, explosive offense and efficient quarterback play led the Tigers out of SEC anonymity and into the discussion with the SEC's elite.
With spring practice kicking off on Wednesday, head coach Gary Pinkel is now facing a much different challenge—staying there.
A big part of that equation will be redshirt sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk, who started four games in place of injured starter James Franklin in the middle of the season, going 3-1 in the process. He finished the season with 1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
So what does he need to work on this season—his first as the full-time starter?
Mauk was awesome in relief of Franklin, but was more of a big play quarterback than an efficient one. He completed just 51.1 percent of his passes (68-of-133) but managed an eye-popping 8.1 yards per attempt in the process.
That's a sign that Mauk has upside, but he still made some freshman mistakes and wasn't totally comfortable in the offense.
That comfort has to come this spring.
Luckily for Mauk, budding superstar Dorial Green-Beckham is in the fold. Unfortunately for Mauk, recently departed wide receivers L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas are not.
Green-Beckham is going to be a stud and certainly established a connection with Mauk last season—but he's going to draw all of the attention now, which means Mauk needs to find someone else to rely on underneath as a possession receiver when DGB is busy drawing the attention of the secondary.
That came back to bite Mauk when his team was in the red zone, as he completed just 40 percent of his passes (10-of-25) inside the red zone last season. Six of those were touchdowns, so he made it work, but inconsistency in the short-yardage passing game clearly became more pronounced with less room to work with.
He doesn't have to be the the most efficient passer in the world. With a big arm and DGB outside, taking risks downfield isn't the worst idea. But 51.1 percent won't cut it, and Mauk needs to be dancing around 60 percent for Missouri to be consistent with him at the helm.
This is more a product of Missouri than Mauk, but as was the case with Franklin, Mauk's feet drag a bit once he takes a snap in the shotgun. Whether it's a product of coaching or just something that developed while playing behind Franklin, slow feet while dropping back comes at the expense of reaction time.
Take a look at the 3:29 mark above in the highlights versus Kentucky.
Mauk takes the snap and is a little lazy getting back into his drop. It isn't as pronounced as Franklin's slow feet, but if Kentucky—or any team—brings heat, he's going to have a difficult time avoiding the rush.
It worked out for Mauk on that play, as Green-Beckham leaped over a defender to catch a pass that was a bit short of where it needed to be. But he can't count on that every play.
Pressure From Being "The Man"
When Mauk entered for Franklin in the second half versus Georgia, he promptly went 3-of-3 and polished off the upset road win between the hedges. He knew his time as the starter was only for a limited time and helped keep the ship going in the right direction.
He did so successfully, but now he has to deal with not only high expectations generated from his own play, but those generated from the Tigers winning the SEC East title.
No pressure, kid.
Whether players want to admit it or not, it's much different being the full-time starter all offseason knowing that you're not only being expected to repeat your performance as a fill-in, but to build on it while keeping the program, at worst, at a similar level.
Mauk needs to block out that noise and focus on getting better, but that's not an easy thing to do now that he's the big man on campus.
* All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.