• Last season: 12-2 (7-1)
• All-time record: 643-532-52
• SEC titles: None
• Opener: South Dakota State on Aug. 30
Missouri redshirt sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk is not viewed as a returning starter since he did not start half of the games last season.
Yet when it comes to playing Missouri's developing rivals in the Southeastern Conference East Division -- Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee -- Mauk has faced them all. The 6-foot, 200-pounder from Kenton, Ohio, came off the bench to help the Tigers polish off Georgia and started in the convincing wins over the Gators and the Volunteers.
"Having that experience did a lot, especially from the standpoint of slowing the game down," Mauk said at SEC media days. "I felt like I wasn't managing the game anymore but going out there with an explosive offense and putting points on the board. It was like I was back in high school again and having fun."
Mauk would have been perfect in relief of James Franklin had it not been for South Carolina, which rallied from a 17-0 deficit to hand Missouri its only regular-season loss, 27-24 in double overtime.
Making four starts certainly qualified Mauk as a key component of last season's SEC East champions, and he played in 13 of 14 games. He threw for 1,071 yards with 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions, and he also rushed for 229 yards and 5.6 yards a carry.
"That experience obviously helped him tremendously, and I think our players have a lot of confidence in him," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I think he's a very natural leader. I knew that when he was in high school. He's got a great work ethic. He's a winner, and the players know it. He is a remarkable competitor.
"They respect the way he leads, because he leads in a very positive way."
Mauk earned a lot of that respect last October, when Franklin separated his shoulder early in the fourth quarter at Georgia with the Tigers clinging to a 28-26 lead. Missouri was facing a third-and-6 and opted for a quarterback keeper, which Mauk converted with a 7-yard pickup.
The Tigers scored a touchdown on that drive and added another to pull away for a 41-26 win, with Mauk going 3-for-3 passing for 23 yards.
"That was crazy," Mauk said. "James went down, and [tailback] Henry Josey came up to me and said, 'Just be you.' That has stuck to me to this day. When I went out there, I had thrown three or four balls and my chin strap wasn't tight.
"They call a quarterback run on third-and-6, and that showed a confidence in me. It definitely boosted my confidence once I got it."
That confidence was evident the following week, when Mauk made his first career start in a 36-17 thrashing of visiting Florida. Mauk threw for 295 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for a score.
"They had that confidence in me to go deep on my first play, and I throw a touchdown 22 seconds into a game against the third-ranked defense in the country," he said. "That's something big, and it really slowed everything down for me. Later in the game I did some things wrong like throwing an interception, which I've got to learn from, but I feel like I got better."
An early 96-yard touchdown pass to L'Damian Washington the next week put the Tigers in position for another huge win against South Carolina, but the Gamecocks stiffened and forced Mauk into a 9-of-24 evening outside of that long completion.
Missouri had three prominent receivers last season who were 6-5 or taller, but all are gone now, with off-the-field issues claiming former top national recruit Dorial Green-Beckham. Bud Sasser, another hero in the win at Georgia, is the top returning receiver, with the 6-2, 210-pounder having caught 26 passes for 361 yards and a score.
The Tigers return tailbacks Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, who combined for 1,286 yards last season, but Missouri having just three returning offensive starters and five back defensively has resulted in lower preseason expectations from those outside the program.
"That doesn't bother us at all," Mauk said. "People can say or do what they want, but we know we have playmakers and a healthy offensive line. People think we've lost [defensive ends] Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, but they obviously didn't watch Shane Ray and Markus Golden.
"What people say has no effect on what we're going to do. We're going to play Mizzou football and try to win every game."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.