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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Season recap: Missouri

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

MISSOURI TIGERS

Record: 7-5 (5-4)

The Big 12 is a quarterbacks league and The Big Question for Mizzou was simple: Did it have one? It had two until Tyler Gabbert transferred, but James Franklin proved in 2011 that the answer was yes. He progressed as a passer throughout the season and never lost sight of his ability to run, either, rescuing Missouri from a 3-4 start to win four of the team's final five games and reach a bowl game.

The Tigers won seven games, the fewest since the 2005 season, but that's telling of the program's progress. All five losses were quality, and the Tigers might be the best five-loss team in America. Take that for what it's worth, but No. 3 Oklahoma State was the only team to beat Mizzou at home. It's other losses came to Oklahoma, Arizona State, Baylor and Kansas State, all on the road. Not bad at all. The defense was a bit underwhelming, but the Tigers were playing their best football late in the season, and won a dramatic game against Texas Tech in the home finale without coach Gary Pinkel, who was suspended for the game after a drunk driving arrest. The Tigers handled that crisis as well as possible, being up front about the mistakes made and handing Pinkel a stiff punishment that included financial penalties exceeding $300,000. It didn't prove to be a huge distraction for the team, and though the Tigers would have liked to leave for the SEC with more impact, the bar is not high in the Big 12 for teams with first-year starters at quarterback.

Offensive MVP: Henry Josey, running back. Josey suffered a serious knee injury, tearing his left MCL, ACL and patellar tendon, but he was still the Big 12's leading rusher for almost three full weeks after his season was over and the Big 12 continued on. He averaged an outlandish 8.06 yards per carry and finished with 1,168 yards, despite having just the 12th-most carries in the Big 12. Not bad for a guy who started the season as the team's No. 3 back.

Defensive MVP: E.J. Gaines, cornerback. No clear winner here. Missouri could point to a handful of places, but I went with the team's truly most outstanding season. Gaines intercepted three passes, but he broke up 16 more. The next most on Missouri's team: four. In a passer's league like the Big 12, that's pretty amazing. So, with apologies to Andrew Wilson, Zaviar Gooden, Luke Lambert, Brad Madison and Jacquies Smith, I'm going with Gaines.

Turning point: The overtime win over Texas A&M. You could see in the Tigers' emotion after the win how much it meant. Dropping to 3-5 would have been a huge hit and put a lot of pressure on the team down the stretch. Franklin highlighted the day with a certified "Beast Mode" run, bouncing off tacklers for a 20-yard touchdown run early on, but the win featured a 14-point second-half comeback and keyed off a 4-1 finish for the Tigers. The only loss came on the road to Baylor by three points.

What’s next: For now, it's a brief jaunt into SEC country -- Shreveport for the  AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl -- before a permanent stay next season. The Tigers will bring back a ton of experience on offense, though three of the top six tacklers on defense will be gone. The program's already altered its recruiting strategy, assigning two coaches to recruit Florida and another in Atlanta. Maintaining recruiting ties to Texas as much as possible is important for the program's future, and a cross-divisional rivalry with Texas A&M -- Missouri will visit the Aggies every other year, vs. once every six years for the other SEC West teams--should help a bit. The Tigers should contend for the SEC East title next year, but their recruiting will determine longterm success in their new home.