It’s only fitting that James Franklin gets a chance to finish what he started, especially given all the misery he endured a year ago.
Maty Mauk hands the keys to the Missouri offense back over to Franklin on Saturday as the Tigers take what they hope is the first of two final steps to the SEC championship game.
To get to Atlanta, they’ll have to beat Ole Miss in Oxford and then come back home and corral Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M two days after Thanksgiving.
It’s a daunting close to the regular season, for sure, but one that should be more manageable with Missouri’s senior quarterback back in the lineup.
That’s not a knock on Mauk, who was 3-1 in Franklin’s absence and tied a school record in his last start against Kentucky with five touchdown passes. Mauk also finished the 41-26 win at Georgia after Franklin separated his throwing shoulder in the fourth quarter of that game.
So Mauk, a redshirt freshman, has proven that he’s more than capable of leading this team.
Franklin, though, provides another dimension. He’s big enough and athletic enough to give the Tigers another weapon in the running game. He’s also a more polished passer than Mauk and was completing 67.7 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions before he was injured.
But most importantly, Franklin has the experience of playing in these big games. He has been starting since he was a sophomore and has been through the gauntlet.
There’s no substitute for that experience, especially at the quarterback position.
Don’t underestimate, either, Franklin’s desire to finish up his career the right way and put this program in a position to play for a championship. The disappointment of last season's 5-7 finish, particularly with it being the Tigers' first year in the SEC, continues to be a huge motivator.
There's also some unfinished personal business for Franklin. He took a beating last season physically, and some even questioned his toughness when he injured his shoulder against Georgia and missed the Arizona State game the next week. Franklin doesn’t believe in taking painkilling shots and declined to take one in order to be able to play.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who was the one who revealed that Franklin declined to take a painkilling injection, later came to his quarterback’s defense. Franklin also battled a knee injury and concussion last season. He missed three entire games and was knocked out of two others.
Pinkel said Franklin went “through hell” and that he’d never had a quarterback go through anything close to what Franklin endured last season.
What made it even more difficult for Franklin was that he was coming off a brilliant sophomore season in which he passed for 2,865 yards, rushed for 981 yards and accounted for 36 touchdowns.
His first foray into the SEC, though, was spent almost entirely in the training room, which makes this final stretch so enticing for Franklin now that he's healthy again.
“There were a lot of things I wanted to do and felt like I was on track to do, especially after last season,” Franklin said. “Being hurt and not being able to finish that is definitely frustrating.
“I had a lot more motivation this year.”
Pinkel said Franklin is completely cleared. And while Franklin will obviously try not take any unnecessary shots, he's going to play his game.
Other than the handful of snaps he took two weeks ago against Kentucky, Franklin hasn't played in six weeks. There's bound to be some rust. But Franklin has also played enough football that he should settle in pretty quickly.
The Missouri coaches can take comfort in the fact that they have two quarterbacks who are ready and two quarterbacks they've won with this season.
At the rate we've seen quarterbacks going down this season in the SEC, that's a huge bonus for the Tigers.