Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
There are question marks on Missouri’s football roster coming into the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference debut. Some — maybe we should say many — think they’re in over their heads, that the defense isn’t strong enough, that without Henry Josey the run game will be pedestrian, that the offensive line is too small. The critics have been heard.
But one thing upon which even the most cynical Tiger-basher agrees is this: Mizzou will get good quarterback play.
Once thought of as “too nice” to lead men into battle, James Franklin is now nearly universally recognized as an excellent college QB. His 3,846 yards last year is No. 4 on the all-time single season total yards chart at Mizzou (behind three seasons of Chase Daniel tearing it up from 2006-2008), which means he actually got more yards last year than the record-smashing best of Brad Smith (2005).
And with every indication that he’s fully healed from offseason surgery, and having showed consistent improvement throughout the course of last season, there’s every reason to think we may see even more from Franklin this year, which is why he’s on the watch list for nearly every major award a quarterback can win. He’s up for the Maxwell, for the Davie O’Brien, for the Walter Camp, he may win a Best New Artist Grammy before the season’s through.
James Franklin runs into the end zone for one of his four touchdowns against Texas Tech in 2001
He’s also going to be scary because this is something the Big 12’s seen before — a quarterback who can run or throw with nearly equal success, but it’s not an SEC staple. Defenses in the new league will be less prepared to stop Franklin having not faced guys like Robert Griffin III and Collin Klein week in and week out.
He doesn’t have the big arm of some top QBs, including one or two at Mizzou, but they’re behind Franklin for a reason. He has enough arm to be a very effective thrower, and his decision-making and ability to get the ball to the right guy in the right place got better before our eyes each week last season. He’s telegraphing plays less, getting better at finding second and third options, becoming more cunning.
And while the discussion gets cloying at times, there is absolutely no doubt his character is a big part of all this. It goes beyond the charming smile and calling reporters “sir,” there is an inner strength and integrity that makes him exactly what some thought he might not be when he landed in Boone County.
James Franklin is a leader.
Immediately behind him on the depth chart is a reasonable back-up option in Corbin Berkstresser. When Franklin was injured in spring drills, Berkstresser stepped in and showed what Tiger fans have to look forward to when the Franklin days are over. Berkstresser’s got a cannon of an arm, capable of making throws Franklin can only dream of. And with some serious speed among some of Mizzou’s younger receivers, most notably Dorial Green-Beckham, there are some bombs in the future of MU’s offense. Berkstresser still needs to develop some maturity, as an offseason arrest demonstrated, but the redshirt freshman has time. His considerable success at Lee’s Summit High tells us that the future of the QB position is in good hands.
Corbin Berkstresser is a winner.
With the departure of Ashton Glaser, who went from a third-stringer in Columbia to presumed starter and potential star at Missouri State, the Tigers turn next to incoming freshman Maty Mauk. Mauk was surprisingly underrated by those who rank high school recruits, but did garner All-American honors. All he did at Kenton (Ohio) High School was throw for more yards, more completions, and more touchdowns than any quarterback.
In the whole nation.
He also showed the ability to step up at the times when it was most needed, tossing six TDs in the state championship game. He’s a good fit into the Mizzou plan — like Franklin and Berkstresser he can both pass and run. He also has the big arm, and the competition in the future between Mauk and Berkstresser could be very interesting to watch and very scary for SEC defenses to ponder.
Mauk’s pedigree is impeccable. His older brother was a fine quarterback at Cincinnati and his dad Mike is a coaching legend in Ohio, getting ready for his 30th season on the sideline at Kenton. And they play high school football for real in Ohio.
He’s grown up immersed in the game, threw for more yards passing than anyone in high school, was the starting QB for four seasons and now he’s bringing his show to Mizzou. There’s no doubt about it.
Maty Mauk’s a football player.
Tomorrow: The best quarterback in the world is pretty ineffective without someone to catch all those passes. From an all-conference senior to the best high school receiver in the nation, the Tiger receivers provide some good targets for Franklin, et al.