HOOVER, Ala. — With most SEC and national publications picking against a Mizzou repeat in the East Division, Maty Mauk is one of the biggest reasons Tigers fans hope for a second consecutive shocker.

Heck, with the mass exodus of accomplished star quarterbacks in the SEC this year and coach Gary Pinkel’s quick-hit spread offense, Mauk could become one of the league’s next stars.

When senior quarterback James Franklin sprained his shoulder Oct. 12 against Georgia, most people assumed it guaranteed the end of Missouri’s surprise hijacking of the SEC East. Even if a decorated senior can lead a team to a surprise division title in the SEC, a backup redshirt freshman quarterback should focus on treading water. Right?

Enter Mauk, who held off the Bulldogs after coming off the bench in the fourth quarter and then finished 3-1 in four starts, the only loss coming to Connor Shaw and South Carolina in double overtime.

Missouri averaged 38.3 points per game in wins against Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky as Mauk threw for 10 touchdowns against two interceptions in the four starts.

“That experience I think helped him tremendously. I think certainly our players have a lot of confidence in him,” coach Gary Pinkel said Wednesday at SEC Media Days.

When the Tigers severed ties with Dorial Green-Beckham earlier this offseason, it became clear Mauk will bear the brunt of the playmaking load on offense. Leading rusher Henry Josey and leading receiver L’Damian Washington also are among the offensive skill players no longer on the roster.

In addition to cultivating a group of receivers nearly from scratch and putting up enough points to cover for a few potential blemishes on defense, Pinkel expects Mauk to be one of the team’s leaders.

“I think he’s a very natural leader. I knew that when he was in high school. He was one of those guys that he loves to play football, loves to compete. He’s just got the ‘it’ factor,” Pinkel said. “Obviously you have to block and give him time to throw the football, establish our running game, make plays. It’s not all Maty Mauk. But I think he’s a player that has great, great potential.”

Mauk, who broke national records for passing yards (18,932) and touchdown passes (219) during his prep career at Kenton, Ohio, is used to slinging the ball with confidence and making plays with his legs.

But Mauk was far from perfect last year, completing just 51.1 percent of his passes. He still has to develop his footwork and ability to read defenses, much like any young college quarterback. Listed at 6-feet, 200 pounds, it also will be important for Mauk to pick his spots as a runner and avoid injuries. He completed 68 passes and rushed 41 times last season.

Sporting a beard and fresh off an appearance in the Manning Passing Academy, Mauk seemed relaxed and confident Wednesday.

“Having this whole summer to know you’re the guy and not just know you’re a backup … and when you know the guys like I do, it’s like looking at the back of your hand. Now we’re perfecting everything at a high level,” Mauk said.

Missouri fans are accustomed to quarterbacks putting up big numbers. Brad Smith, Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and Franklin are all bullet points on Pinkel’s resume as a quarterback whisperer. But it also gives him credibility when he talks up his newest protege.

“I think he’s a dual‑threat guy. He can run. He’s got very good speed. Put a lot of pressure on the defense utilizing both of those things. His leadership is very non‑threatening, too,” Pinkel said.

“First of all, he’s got a great work ethic. He’s a winner. Players know it. He’s a remarkable competitor. They respect the way he leads ’cause he leads in a very, very positive way.
We’re very fortunate to have a young player like him.”

Mauk may become a household name in the SEC whether or not Missouri can fend off South Carolina and Georgia for another year. But it’s hard to imagine the Tigers reaching double-digit wins again without some eye-popping numbers from its young quarterback.