June 29, 2012
Franklin's health a key concern as Mizzou enters SEC
In cooperation with the other SEC sites on Rivals.com, we take a look at five questions facing each team as preseason practice approaches. The series continues today with a report on the Missouri Tigers from PowerMizzou.com's Gabe DeArmond.
The Missouri Tigers enter their first season in the Southeastern Conference after a long history with the Big Eight and Big 12. Of all the unknowns for the 2012 SEC season, Missouri is likely the biggest. Here are five questions facing the Tigers.
1. Will James Franklin be healthy?
The Tigers' starting quarterback put up one of the most impressive statistical seasons in Mizzou history in 2011. The first-year starter compiled 2,865 passing yards, 981 rushing yards and 36 total touchdowns as a sophomore. But in spring ball, Franklin tore ligaments in his shoulder trying to cover up a fumble. The timetable from Gary Pinkel has had Franklin starting to throw in July, but the coach said at the SEC spring meetings that his quarterback was ahead of schedule. If Franklin is ready to go in Week 1, the tenor for the Tigers' season is completely different than if Mizzou has to turn to someone else. Redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser is Missouri's backup. If all goes according to plan, that's the job he will continue to hold this season.
|SEC: FIVE QUESTIONS|
In cooperation with the other SEC sites on Rivals.com, we take a look at five preseason questions facing each team. Here is the schedule for the series.
|Mon, June 25||South Carolina|
|Tue, June 26||Ole Miss|
|Wed, June 27||Georgia|
|Thur, June 28||Arkansas|
|Fri, June 29||Missouri|
|Mon, July 2||Auburn|
|Tue, July 3||Vanderbilt|
|Thur, July 5||Texas A&M|
|Fri, July 6||Tennessee|
|Mon, July 9 ||Alabama|
|Tue, July 10||Florida|
|Wed, July 11||Mississippi St.|
|Thur, July 12||Kentucky|
|Fri, July 13||LSU|
2. Can Missouri replace Henry Josey?
Josey started last season third on the depth chart at tailback as a sophomore. He broke out against Arizona State and assumed the starting job due to injuries to De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence. Josey ran wild, putting up 1,168 yards before seeing his season end prematurely with a knee injury against Texas. Team doctors have stated they've never seen an injury quite like Josey's. While he hasn't been ruled out for Missouri's 2012 season, most close to the program are targeting 2013 for his return. With Josey and Franklin, the Tigers put together one of the country's top rushing games. Without Josey, Lawrence will once again assume the starting role. As a junior, the Rockwall, Texas, native ran for 566 yards, including 265 on 48 carries in three games after replacing Josey as the starter. While he is not the home run threat Josey is, Lawrence has proven a capable back over his first three seasons. Marcus Murphy returns from injury as the second-stringer and sophomore Greg White and true freshmen Russell Hansbrough and Morgan Steward will fight for time.
3. How good is the receiving corps?
Missouri lost all-American tight end Michael Egnew after last season, but returns a combined 97 catches for 1,427 yards and 12 touchdowns from T.J. Moe, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Washington led the team in yards per catch and Lucas set a school record for fourth quarter and overtime touchdown catches in 2011. Throw in all-everything prospect Dorial Green-Beckham and there is reason to believe the Tigers could have their best receiving corps since 2007, a season in which they went 12-2. But only Moe has proven himself as a starter on Saturdays and while the potential is there, these Tigers have to prove it on the field.
4. Which adjustment is bigger?
The SEC does not feature many spread offenses as wide open as Missouri's. The Tigers are often in empty five-wide sets and run virtually every play out of the shotgun. The running game leans heavily on the zone read and features very few traditional power sets. Will SEC defenses have to adjust to Mizzou or will Mizzou have to adjust to SEC defenses? The fact is, every other league team has to learn only one or two new systems. The Tigers and Texas A&M have to learn seven each.
5. Who steps up up front?
Missouri's linebacking corps is the strength of the defense and it returns two starting cornerbacks. Defensive end has long been a strength for the Tigers and should continue to be solid with the likes of Brad Madison and Michael Sam along with up-and-comers Kony Ealy and Shane Ray. But the interior of the line is where Missouri faces the biggest questions. Sheldon Richardson came out of high school as the nation's number four prospect and showed flashes of brilliance last year after a junior college detour. Lucas Vincent is slated to start alongside Richardson, but should receive a major push from Matt Hoch who started at Missouri as a tight end, moved to defensive end and then inside to tackle. Hoch had a breakout spring. The defensive line is generally what sets SEC teams apart from the rest of the country. Missouri's is far from a certainty at this point in time.
These all contribute to the ultimate question about Missouri football going forward: Can the Tigers compete in the SEC?
Mizzou has been among the nation's most successful programs the past few seasons, winning at least eight games every year since 2006. The Tigers have played in a bowl game seven years in a row, including two wins over SEC teams (2005 Independence over South Carolina and 2008 Cotton over Arkansas). But because they are not a traditional powerhouse, most national pundits are pegging Missouri for regression and struggles in the SEC.
This year's league schedule for Missouri will feature opponents who won just below 61 percent of their games a season ago. But last year's schedule in the Big 12 featured nine teams that won 60 percent of their games. The Big 12 may not be the SEC, but it was a strong contender for the nation's second-best conference. The Tigers faced Oklahoma State (which finished just out of the running for a bid in the national title game), Oklahoma (No. 1 at the time), Baylor (a top-15 team last year) and Kansas State (top 20) a season ago. While Missouri never broke through and won the Big 12, the Tigers won two division titles and were regarded as one of the league's top three or four programs over the last few seasons. How will that translate to, as many like to term the move to the SEC, jumping into the deep end of the pool? Only time will tell. Missouri starts its SEC membership with a Sept. 8th home game against Georgia.
For additional Missouri coverage, visit PowerMizzou.com.
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