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missouri TIGERS
August 17, 2012
Hoping to make a rousing first impression, the SEC's newest member could have the talent to compete for a division title
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August 17, 2012

Missouri Tigers

Hoping to make a rousing first impression, the SEC's newest member could have the talent to compete for a division title

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IF THE MAJORITY OF GARY PINKEL'S PREVIOUS 11 SEASONS AT Missouri were like a marathon, in which the Tigers were running hard to catch the Big 12's elite in Texas and Oklahoma, then the move to the SEC now requires them to finish a 27th mile.

In the Big 12, with the power programs drifting back to the pack, Missouri would have been a dark-horse contender. In the SEC East, a division title is a possibility, but that might just earn the Tigers the privilege of being the sacrificial lamb in the conference championship game. "Our players understand where we'll be playing," says Pinkel of his new league's rugged nature. "Anytime you're the new team, you have to earn respect and you have to prove yourself. That's our goal."

It's tough to get a read on just how good the Tigers can be, given some physical uncertainties. James Franklin, their 225-pound dual-threat quarterback and one of the nation's rising stars, hurt his throwing shoulder in the spring. While Franklin is expected to return in time for the opener, it was a lost off-season in terms of development as a passer.

A bigger blow was the loss of tailback Henry Josey, who will most likely miss the season with a knee injury after averaging 8.1 yards per carry last season. Pinkel, at least, is bullish on other Tigers backs. "We still have Kendial Lawrence, who's a very good player," he says of the steady senior. "And Marcus Murphy is similar to Henry Josey."

On the other side of the ball, the top two linemen, defensive end Brad Madison and tackle Sheldon Richardson, skipped the spring after off-season shoulder surgery. Both should be ready for the opener, and if they continue last year's fine play, the defense could be very good. Veterans Zaviar Gooden and Will Ebner lead a solid linebacking corps, and E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards form one of the SEC's top cornerback tandems.

Pinkel scored an in-state recruiting coup by landing Dorial Green-Beckham, the consensus No. 1 receiver in the class of 2012., Green-Beckham should make an immediate impact on a team that has lacked an elite downfield threat and he should be a fine complement to senior slot receiver T.J. Moe.

Counting on a freshman to star in its first SEC season may be risky for Missouri. But it also may be a brave way to set an identity, and win respect.

the vitals

COACH Gary Pinkel (12th year) 85--51 (47--42 in Big 12)

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