It was a tough inaugural season in the SEC for the Missouri Tigers last year, as they won just two games in their new conference and failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 2004. However, the Tigers have bounced back and are off to a promising start this season. They swept through their non-conference schedule and won their conference opener over the Vanderbilt Commodores, giving them a 5-0 record and a spot in the Rant Sports top-25 rankings.
But things are about to get a whole lot tougher for the Tigers, as they play their next three games against the three powerhouse programs of the SEC East: the Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, and South Carolina Gamecocks. It’s a three-week stretch no school would wish on its worst rival, but a great challenge is also a great opportunity. Missouri has a chance to show critics that they truly belong in the SEC and will remain relevant over the long term if they’re able to win at least of these next three games, especially with the home-field advantage in two of them.
Opportunity is also knocking for Missouri quarterback James Franklin. Last season did not go as expected for Franklin, as he missed time due to injury, struggled against top SEC defenses, and had trouble keeping his job due to his inconsistency, even against non-conference opponents. But like the Tigers, Franklin has also bounced back this year and is having a great senior season.
Franklin has nearly matched the number of passing yards he had all of last season, he’s completed 68 percent of his passes, and has already thrown 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions, not to mention he has 278 rushing yards and has scored two more touchdowns running the ball. Despite last year’s injuries and offseason shoulder surgery, Franklin looks healthy and is playing at a high level, much like he did during his sophomore season in 2011 and how he was expected to play last season.
If Franklin can maintain that high level of play against the defenses of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, he will start to have his name mentioned among the top quarterbacks in the SEC this year. He will also start moving up the NFL draft boards after his stock took a major hit last season. More importantly, if Franklin plays well he will give Missouri a chance to pull an upset or two against the top teams in the SEC East, which would be a major statement by the Tigers not only for this year’s team but for their long-term future in the SEC as well.
Of course, getting a win against any one of those three teams will be no easy task for Franklin and the Tigers. Despite sneaking into the top-25 with their 5-0 start, Missouri still has a lot to prove. But here is their opportunity to prove it. It’s their chance to show that they belong and that they can compete in the SEC.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.