Most of the preseason buzz about Missouri follows a thesis of what the Tigers lost in top-line personnel.
Co-SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam, edge rusher and second-round pick Kony Ealy, quarterback James Franklin and wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham lead the list of players head coach Gary Pinkel must replace.
But that’s only the start. Just eight starters return from Mizzou’s 2013 roster.
“We do a very good job of developing players,” Pinkel said. “We call it Mizzou Made. We never once pay attention to how many stars a player has next to his name. Never. We trust our system.”
Four-star recruit Maty Mauk steps to the forefront of Mizzou’s spread offense after starting four games for an injured Franklin as a redshirt freshman last season. Pinkel trusts Mauk to pilot the fast-break style of football he uses, and trusts his players will follow.
“He’s a very natural leader,” Pinkel said. “We knew that in high school. He has very good speed and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. His leadership is very non-threatening. He’s a leader, and players know it. He has a great work ethic, and players know it. … That’s also why he did so well last year. He’s the guy know and I guarantee there’s no one more excited to get going.”
Mauk spelled Franklin at Georgia when the starter hurt his throwing shoulder and guided Missouri to a win at No. 22-ranked Florida the next week. It was an earlier arrival than expected, though one the Tigers saw coming.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Pinkel said. “He’s just got the it factor.”
Mauk has three familiar receivers back in the fold but there are plenty of “TBD” notations on the Missouri pre-fall
“Bottom line: it’s gotta happen. We’re going to find out,” Pinkel said. “That’s what recruiting is about. I’m very pleased with some of the young players coming in. I told (our young backups), this isn’t about playing well in 2-3 years. It’s about playing now.”
Pinkel said he and his coaching staff gauge progress of backups and their readiness throughout the season and offseason. He believes they are ready, even if prognosticators don’t. Then again, last season when the Tigers were picked at the bottom of the SEC, they won the division.
“I don’t get into that — what is said and what is predicted,” he said. “When I became head football coach at Missouri, I wanted to be respected in the Big 12 and now the SEC. … I just wanted to be respected. You do that through winning football games, our graduation rate is one of the best in the league.”