Franklin Taking Center Stage
By BJ Bennett
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College football is now curious to see how Missouri does in the SEC. It's uncharted territory for the Tigers. James Franklin will be leading the way.
Missouri's James Franklin was one of the most effective quarterbacks in the Big 12 last season. He compiled over 3,800 yards of total offense (rushing for close to 1,000), scored 36 total touchdowns, completed 63% of his passes and had a higher passer rating than Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, now of the Miami Dolphins. The sophomore signal caller was a bit underrated and under-discussed nationally, likely because the Tigers limped into the middle of November at just 4-5 overall. Now the face of a program making its debut in college football's top conference with a home game against defending division champion Georgia, Franklin will very soon become the center of attention.
Entering just his second season as starter, the most exciting thing about the dynamic Franklin is his potential. Developing a consistently fluid throwing motion remains a top priority and significant strides were made at the end of 2011. In his last six games, Franklin did not have a single-game completion percentage lower than 63.6% and totaled an overall rate of just under 68% during that span. It's quite obvious that Franklin can run, ask Oklahoma, Texas Tech and North Carolina: he torched those three defenses for a combined 397 rushing yards and six rushing scores. He could be most effective as a runner, however, when he doesn't feel like he has to.
With a year of successful experience on his resume, Franklin should naturally be more trusting of his passing abilities this fall. The arrival of 6'6'' super-recruit Dorial Green-Beckham will provide a rather large confidence boost as well. The Springfield-native will enter college football as the consensus top-freshman in the game. As a senior in high school, he recorded an astonishing 2,233 yards receiving. Add in the return of slot receiver T.J. Moe, 146 catches the past two years, and Franklin will have one of the nation's top inside-outside tandems in the country to throw to.
The challenge awaiting Franklin is a schedule featuring a number of the nation's top defenses. Mark Richt's Bulldogs will bring the nation's fifth-ranked scoring defense from a year ago to Columbia in week two, All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones leading the charge. Two weeks later the Tigers will head east to low-country Columbia for a meeting with Devin Taylor, Jadeveon Clowney and a South Carolina unit that was top ten in the country in scoring defense last season. The nation's number one defense, Alabama, awaits in mid-October. Another top ten squad, Florida, looms in early November. Critics will point to the fact that Missouri did not play a single team ranked in the top 30 in scoring defense a year ago.
It's been a natural progression for Franklin. Stepping in for first round NFL Draft pick Blaine Gabbert last season, he showed a staggering playmaking ability for a team that struggled for much of the year. That said, the Tigers won four straight to end the season; Franklin had seven passing touchdowns and just three interceptions in the month of November. College football is now curious to see how Missouri does in the SEC. It's uncharted territory for the Tigers. Franklin will be leading the way.
"You saw a player that said he was going to do everything he could to win the game. It was a pretty amazing run," Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel said of Franklin's famed touchdown run against Texas A&M. "He had a third and five or six later in the game right in front of our bench that did exactly the same thing. He had to break two or three tackles to get the first down. When you have a player like that that is your leader, and he's throwing his body up a little bit, I think there is no question it has a huge impact on your team. I know our players responded in a very positive way."
There are those who doubt the Tigers' place in their new league. There is the devastating knee injury to all-league rusher Henry Josey. There is mounting media attention on a program that has sometimes had to fight to find it. Somewhere in the middle, a budding leader appears ready to take it all on. The SEC is Missouri's next stop, the spotlight is Franklin's.