COLUMBIA, Mo. - It isn't exactly Ohio State, what with the Buckeyes' seemingly endless cycle of talented quarterbacks, but the Missouri football team hasn't lacked for intrigue behind center this fall.
The Tigers' starter, junior Maty Mauk, has the third most starts of any quarterback in the Southeastern Conference, and is 15-4 in those starts. But the promotion of true freshman Drew Lock to backup quarterback before the season has drawn murmurs - murmurs Lock's strong showing in three drives against Southeast Missouri State hasn't quelled.
But in what could be a potentially awkward setup, Mauk and Lock appear to be happy to work together.
"Obviously Maty's our leader here, and he's a good quarterback," Lock said. "That's who I'm learning underneath, and I couldn't be more OK with learning underneath him."
Mauk has said multiple times he believes his job is secure now that games are being played.
"It's kind of in-season now, so it's not necessarily a competition between us," Mauk said. "I'm going to do whatever I've got to do to help him learn and progress as a quarterback."
Although, he seemed to acknowledge Lock could push for more starting time in the future.
"I'm a guy that's going to compete no matter what, it doesn't matter who's out there, I'm going to be ready to play at all times," Mauk said. "So when the competition does come, we're going to be ready, but right now there's no competition. My job is to make sure that (Lock) is ready to go at all times. He's one snap away. But as our starting quarterback, I have to worry about our offense. I've got to make sure our receivers know what we're doing, our offensive line knows what we're doing, and making sure we're out there being consistent."
Missouri head coach Pinkel has stressed Lock's role as a freshman quarterback is nothing new. The past four Missouri quarterbacks - Mauk, James Franklin, Blaine Gabbert and Chase Daniel - all saw playing time their freshman years while substituting on occasion for experienced quarterbacks.
What might make Lock different, however, is Mauk, Franklin, Gabbert and Daniel all played as freshmen in their predecessors' final seasons at Missouri. Mauk is just a junior and is unlikely to leave early for the NFL, a la Gabbert.
And though Pinkel said Monday that Mauk doesn't have any reason to feel threatened, offensive coordinator Josh Henson said Missouri won't be playing favorites.
"I think they're just two guys that understand that there's going to be competition," Henson said of Mauk and Lock. "And like coach (Pinkel) has always done, the best player's going to play."
Lock has been strong in limited time thus far. In three scrimmages, he combined for 484 yards on 38-of-51 passing with four touchdowns and an interception. In his debut against SEMO, Lock completed 6-of-10 passes for 138 yards including a 78-yard touchdown to tailback Tyler Hunt.
Mauk started strong early against SEMO, throwing two touchdowns in the first quarter, though he did sandwich an interception between them. Mauk finished with 181 yards on 12-of-22 passing.
To what extent the two share the field from here on out remains to be seen. Even Lock said Monday he didn't yet know how much playing time to expect in today's game against Arkansas State. In the meantime, he and Mauk are just focused on improving.
"I think they have a great relationship," Henson said. "I watch them interact. They have fun together. They talk a lot about football together."
Lock credited Mauk with helping him learn his reads and release the ball quickly. Mauk said it has been a goal among the quarterbacks this year to add at least two hours of film a week.
"We're kind of going over extra stuff just to make sure that our reads are right and they're crisp, progressions are right, make sure we know what we're doing," Mauk said. "Whether it's third-and-1, third-and-3, third-and-6, third-and-long - whatever it is, we've just got to know what we have to do as an offense, what plays we want to run and who we want to get the ball to."
Mauk has been impressed with what he's seen from the freshman, but he's not afraid to provide criticism, either.
"He'll tell me when I've messed up," Lock said. "Which is good. I'm completely for that, but at the same time he'll tell me when I'm doing good, too."
Like, for example, when Lock walked off the field after throwing his first career touchdown. Mauk was one of the first players to greet Lock on the sideline and congratulated him with a pat on the helmet.
"I couldn't be any more happy for him," Mauk said. "You could see that his emotions were high, and that's what he's got to do. He's a playmaker. He knows what he's doing. He saw the guy downfield, and he's just got to keep continuing to do that."