Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk has only started four games, but you'd think he was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year if spring games meant anything—which, obviously, they don't.
Still, Mauk has a lot of hype heading into the 2014 season thanks to an eye-opening performance in Saturday's Black and Gold Game. The redshirt sophomore, already announced by head coach Gary Pinkel as the starter for this year, completed 64 percent of his passes for 446 yards. Additionally, he ran for a three-yard touchdown.
Stats can be misleading in spring, especially if they're against second-string defenses, but Mauk's leadership and grasp on the offense have coaches excited about his potential.
"I'm way more comfortable with him calling plays, where his eyes are at, where his reads are at and him understanding what's happening on the field," offensive coordinator Josh Henson said via David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune. "He's worked hard at it. He studies the game. I think it's showing in his improved efficiency."
Mauk is more of a risk-taker than former starter James Franklin. Though he only threw two interceptions last year, he completed just 51 percent of his passes trying to make plays happen when they weren't always there. That's not going to be sustainable for an entire season.
However, big plays are borne out of taking risks. Mauk has shown that he can make big plays with his arm and his feet, extending plays and drives. Anyone watching the Tigers' Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State would probably agree that Mauk deserved more playing time for that reason alone.
|Top returning SEC quarterbacks (passing yards)|
|Player (School)||Passing Yards -- 2013||Passing TDs|
|Bo Wallace (Ole Miss)||3,346||18|
|Nick Marshall (Auburn)||1,976||14|
|Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)||1940||10|
Either way, his upside, not necessarily playing experience, puts Missouri near the top of the SEC at the quarterback spot for 2014. The biggest question for Mauk, and the Tigers in general, is how the passing game will fare with the loss of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was dismissed from the team following an alleged domestic incident.
The current seat at the throne belongs to Auburn's Nick Marshall. That's the reward for leading the team to a BCS Championship appearance in his first year as a starter and accounting for more than 3,000 individual yards. Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated elaborates:
However, it seems all but certain that Marshall, barring injury, will be one of the premier players in the SEC. That would've sounded implausible two years ago, when the Pineview, Ga., product -- who began his career as a defensive back at Georgia -- was one of three players dismissed from the Bulldogs following a dorm-room theft of a teammate. In the frenzy to figure out his next stop, Marshall said he had only a few days to decide whether to pursue an opportunity at cornerback or quarterback. Ultimately, he wanted to return to his native position.
Because of turnover at places like Alabama (A.J. McCarron), Georgia (Aaron Murray), LSU (Zach Mettenberger) and Texas A&M (Johnny Manziel), the top of the SEC quarterback list is thinner than it was a year ago.
There's no doubt Mauk can challenge Marshall to be the best quarterback in the SEC, even though his experience is lacking behind guys like Ole Miss' Bo Wallace. The Tigers, quietly, also have a solid quarterback situation behind Mauk. Redshirt junior Corbin Berkstresser had four starts of his own in 2012 when Franklin was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Recently, the Tigers got a commitment from Drew Lock, a 4-star pro-style prospect, according 247Sports Composite rankings. Should Lock honor his verbal and sign with Mizzou in 2015, the program could have one of the best quarterback situations in the SEC for years.
That's all based on potential, of course, but it's hard not to be excited if you're a Missouri fan, especially considering the vibe a year ago coming off a 5-7 season.
Having a good quarterback situation alone won't win a conference or national title, but it's a start. The confidence shown in Mauk is a big reason why the Tigers are an early favorite, along with South Carolina, to return to the SEC championship game next year.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of ESPN.