On Monday, Gary Pinkel, whose Missouri Tigers (8-1, 4-1 SEC) are No. 8 in the BCS standings, said star QB James Franklin could return from his shoulder injury as early as Saturday. He even suggested Franklin could have played in a limited role in Mizzou’s 31-3 victory over Tennessee last week.
Franklin might be ready to return, but that doesn’t mean he should play much, if any, against Kentucky (2-6, 0-4) on Saturday. The Tigers have done just fine with backup Maty Mauk since Franklin went down in the fourth quarter against Georgia.
In that game, he led Mizzou to two late touchdowns to clinch the win. In his three starts, Mauk has thrown for 707 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s 2-1, and there’s no reason to think he can’t improve those numbers against a Kentucky defense that ranks 12th in the SEC in total defense (421 YPG) and is last in the league in yards allowed in conference games (492.5).
Sure, it would probably be beneficial for Franklin to get some game reps before the last two games of the regular season. And under normal circumstances, it would be very tough not to play your best offensive weapon. But with the offense averaging 468.7 yards and 30.3 points with Mauk under center and the worst team in the SEC East up next, Pinkel would be wise to sit Franklin.
Sure, it may be true that no victory is truly a given in SEC play, but you don’t want to risk further damage to his throwing shoulder in a game that is winnable without him.
It makes too much sense not to give Franklin more time to rest before the two games that will largely determine whether Mizzou can win the SEC East and reach a BCS bowl. After Kentucky, the Tigers have a bye week (even more time for Franklin to rest) before traveling to Ole Miss (5-3, 2-3) on Nov. 23 and then hosting No. 15 Texas A&M (7-2, 3-2) on Nov. 30.
Crazier things have happened, but Missouri appears to be in very good hands with Mauk playing against a struggling Kentucky team. Unless the Tigers are struggling against the Wildcats and need a spark, putting Franklin back on the field now likely brings much more risk than reward.