By: Steven Lassan | 5/14/12, 4:25 PM EDT
Order Your Missouri
You can read the entire Missouri preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 SEC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
SEC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Gary Pinkel, 85-54 (11 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: David Yost | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Steckel
An injury to quarterback James Franklin’s throwing shoulder a week into spring practice — which required surgery in late March — left the dual-threat junior’s status for the season opener in limbo. In his first season as a starter, Franklin ranked 15th in the nation with 3,846 yards of total offense — passing for 2,865 yards, rushing for 981 and accounting for 36 touchdowns. In Franklin’s absence during the spring, redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser was elevated to the first team.
While Franklin is expected to be ready for the Sept. 1 opener, the Tigers will be without their top returning rusher. Henry Josey rushed for 1,168 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry as a sophomore, but he underwent two knee surgeries since suffering a season-ending injury in a win against Texas on Nov. 12. Kendial Lawrence, who was projected to be last year’s starter before breaking his fibula in the ’11 opener, replaced Josey for the final four games and finished with 566 yards.
T.J. Moe is the only receiver with significant starting experience, but the senior has caught 146 passes for 1,694 yards the past two years. Heralded freshman Dorial Green-Beckham could make an immediate impact as a true freshman after setting the national high school mark for career receiving yards (6,353).
The return of senior left tackle Elvis Fisher for a sixth year after the NCAA issued him a medical hardship offered a big boost to a line that graduated three regulars.
The healthy return of end Brad Madison and tackle Sheldon Richardson from offseason shoulder surgeries, which kept them both from participating in spring practice, could hold the key to Missouri’s defensive success. Madison started 12 games last year and has collected 12 sacks the past two seasons. Richardson, once one of the top high school recruits in the country, got his first taste of Division I competition last year after a stop at junior college. He has two seasons remaining to fulfill his vast potential.
The Tigers possess three linebackers with considerable starting experience but not much proven depth. Zaviar Gooden enters his third year as a starter on the weak side, Andrew Wilson led the squad with 98 stops last year and Will Ebner received an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA following a season-ending ankle injury in last year’s opener.
Cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards lead an experienced secondary that returns seven players with starting experience. Gaines ranked second in the country with 16 pass breakups.
The Tigers appeared to be in good shape with Trey Barrow returning to handle the kicking and punting duties, but the senior struggled with his accuracy during the spring enough to allow redshirt freshman Andrew Baggett to enter into the kicking conversation. Barrow made 7-of-9 field goals last year and ranked ninth nationally with a school-record 44.8-yard punting average.
While Missouri has made major strides during Gary Pinkel’s 11 years as coach, the Tigers never quite reached elite status in the Big 12. Coming off an 8–5 season and following a controversial move to the SEC, Missouri will now attempt to crack the top of the country’s most elite football conference — beginning with a Week 2 home meeting against reigning SEC East champion Georgia.
The Tigers return 10 starters, plus two others who started in 2010, but the soundness of Franklin’s surgically repaired right shoulder will figure prominently in Missouri’s hopes.