The Missouri Tigers are in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game due to a huge turnaround from last season. In 2012, Mizzou’s first year in the SEC, the team was beaten up, literally, suffering numerous injuries to key players. The Tigers finished 5-7 overall last year, and missed out on the postseason.
After the season, Gary Pinkel and his team worked on getting healthy and getting better. They all vowed that 2013 would not be a repeat of 2012. And they were right, as they now meet the Auburn Tigers on Saturday for the championship of college football’s most powerful conference.
The biggest key to the turnaround has been senior quarterback James Franklin. Despite missing all of three games and parts of at least two others, Franklin has been the leader of an offensive unit that is vastly improved from last season. In 2013, Franklin has passed for 1,952 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has also rushed for 412 yards and three scores.
Last season, Franklin struggled through multiple injuries, and his play on the field showed it. In nine games, he passed for just 1,562 yards, with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. And his rushing numbers went from 981 yards in 2011 to just 122 last season.
Even when he missed time earlier this season with a shoulder injury, Franklin helped the team by grooming his backup, Maty Mauk, and helping him to play well enough to keep the Tigers’ momentum going. Franklin’s ability and willingness to fulfill that role showed that he is a true leader on this team.
The fairy tale ending, of course, would have the Tigers beating Auburn on Saturday to win the SEC title and earn a bid in a BCS bowl. But even if Missouri does not win, Franklin and Pinkel can take a great deal of pride in what they have accomplished this season.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.