Back-to-back SEC Eastern Division titles should put a target squarely on Missouri's back in 2015. The Tigers won't be handed the division this season. Not with more questions this season than the past two seasons combined. For Mizzou to continue its domination of the East, the most important position on the field has to be much better this season. (Other posts in the Offseason Spotlight series.)
Spotlight: Maty Mauk, quarterback, 6 feet, 200 pounds, redshirt junior
2014 summary: Mauk finished the season seventh in the SEC in passing yards per game (189.1) and total passing yards (2,648). He also threw 25 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions and ran for 373 yards and two more scores. Mauk struggled in SEC play last season, averaging just 174.8 yards per game, throwing nine touchdowns with seven interceptions, and completing just 48.9 percent of his passes.
The skinny: Despite winning the East the past two seasons, the Tigers still have a hill to climb in the respect department. Honestly, the respect part puzzles me, but SEC purists are set in their ways. However, there are valid reasons not to expect Mizzou to walk away with a third straight SEC East crown. Those elite pass-rushers the Tigers had for two years are gone, a left tackle must be found, and there is no quality experience at wide receiver. Oh, and Mauk must be better in 2015. The Mauk we saw filling in for an injured James Franklin in 2013 just wasn't there for most of the 2014 season. Early on, it looked as if Mauk hadn't missed a beat, but once he reached conference play, his composure was often lost. Completing less than 50 percent of your passes in league play just isn't good enough. Now, Mauk was bailed out by a tremendous defense, which the Tigers rode into Atlanta, but with edge rushers Shane Ray and Markus Golden (42.5 tackles for loss and 24.5 sacks combined) gone, Mizzou's defense takes a major hit in 2015. Also, top receivers Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, and Darius White are gone. That leaves Mauk with a lot of unproven talent to work with this spring and beyond. I'm not saying he can't get back to where he was in 2013, but it's going to take a lot when you consider the holes around him. Running back Russell Hansbrough is a great weapon for Mauk, but a lot of Mizzou's success in 2015 will rest on Mauk's shoulders. The passing game just has to be better in order to take some pressure off Hansbrough and the defense. Mauk has to be more composed when things break down. He has to make better decisions with the ball. He has to be more of a leader and take more command in the huddle. Mauk has been here before and succeeded, and he has the talent and the moxie to be one of the league's best.