2013 Mizzou Walkthrough: Franklin has managed to be polite and polarizing

Bill Carter

The senior from Lake Dallas high school gets one last shot to prove himself.

James Franklin

#1 | 6'2, 230, Sr. | Corinth, TX

2010: 11-for-14 passing (79%), 106 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 0 sacks (7.6/attempt); 23 carries, 116 yards (5.0), 2 TD

2011: 238-for-376 passing (63%), 2,865 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT, 18 sacks (7.0/attempt); 199 carries, 1,089 yards (5.5), 15 TD

2012: 139-for-234 passing (59%), 1,562 yards, 10 TD, 7 INT, 20 sacks (5.5/attempt); 68 carries, 290 yards (4.3), 0 TD

Bill C.: 1. The first thing any of us knew about him was that he was brutally, ridiculously polite. Yes, sir. No, ma'am. I grew up in an FCA town -- you went to Fellowship of Christian Athletes whether you cared about the 'C' or the 'A,' because it was a place to be seen (and, on occasion, a placed where your absence might be judged). Well, James Franklin is possibly the most perfect FCA athlete of all-time. He would destroy all comers in tackle football in the yard behind the church, and then he'd clean up, mow the grass, drive five freshmen home out of courtesy, then post about how much fun he had on Twitter (with full, egregious use of emoticons). There are a lot of ridiculously awful role models in sports. Franklin is an almost uncomfortably good one.

2. We ask a lot of football players. We ask them to play hurt. We ask them to play well hurt. We complain about the damage the sport does to players, and we know rules changes are potentially coming our way, but we also know that we like our football players to sacrifice for our pleasure, and we rebel against any and every proposed rule change wafted in our direction. It's an odd time to be a fan. It's also an odd time to be James Franklin. Franklin has designs for life after football, and we admire the hell out of that right up until it results in him refusing to take a pain-killer so he can go out and play a football game for us. We adore oddities when wins are involved, but with even the slightest threat of a loss, the odd ones are the first ones we destroy. The toughness we adored when Franklin was driving through the Oklahoma defensive line in the fourth quarter in 2010, the toughness we revered when he was bouncing off countless Texas A&M defenders on an incredible 2011 touchdown run, is the toughness we questioned when a shoulder injury (and lack of pain-killers) kept him out of the Arizona State game (How dare he smile on the sideline!!! Doesn't he know he's killing his team???), and when a sprained MCL kept him first from playing against Vanderbilt and Alabama, then from moving against Kentucky, then from throwing accurate passes against Florida, and when a concussion kept him out of the A&M game.

3. I can't say Missouri fans are better or worse than anybody else. I know too many amazing Mizzou fans to count, but I know the other ones, too. One thing is certain, though: We hate quarterbacks. We are not alone in this regard, but we are vociferous about it. Brad Smith is struggling? Yank him for Chase Daniel! Daniel seems like he might be hurt? It was time for the Blaine Gabbert era to begin anyway (or for Chase Patton to finally get his chance at glory). Gabbert can't play well on one ankle, or with an injured hip? He's a pansy and a prima donna. Get him out of here. It's time for the James Franklin era to begin. Actually, never mind. He's obviously not the guy. Berkstresser. Mauk. T.J. Moe. WHOEVER. In Gabbert's and Franklin's cases, their web presence has made them more accessible and more attackable. If I were to add up all the "Stats are for losers," "You should try watching games occasionally," and "You obviously don't know what you're talking about" blather that I've gotten from time to time, multiply it in quantity by 10 and in attempted masculinity by 50 ... that's a fall Tuesday for Franklin or Gabbert. Again, Missouri fans are not alone in this regard. Since the start of football, the backup quarterback has been the most popular player on the team. But it's embarrassing nonetheless.

4. The worst part: We still don't completely know what James Franklin is capable of.

The next step in his development will be his ability to shrug off mistakes. He played quite a few nearly error-free games, but when a glitch occurred, a second was sure to follow. He threw an interception in the opener versus Miami (Ohio), and his next pass went through a defender’s hands. Against Western Illinois, he twice overestimated his ability to throw a deep ball while rolling right (and he was twice saved by his receivers; Eric Waters broke up one sure interception, and L'Damian Washington wrestled another one away for a long reception). Against Kansas State, he threw an interception on his first pass, then froze up and took a huge sack on the next drive. Against Iowa State, he misread the defense and threw a pick six to A.J. Klein, then threw another interception on the next possession. After a quality first half, he turned the ball over four times (three interceptions and a fumble) in the second half against Oklahoma State. And then, of course, he threw back-to-back-to-back interceptions at Arrowhead versus Kansas.

These series of glitches gave ammunition to the crowd of Franklin doubters, just as it did with Daniel in 2006 (we forget now just how bad he looked against Nebraska and Oklahoma). But his overall resume tracks beautifully with those posted by other great Missouri quarterbacks.

I wrote that over a year and a half ago. And heading into his senior year, we still have no idea if he can shake off mistakes properly, if he can get out of his own head more quickly. I will forever defend James Franklin's ability to be a pretty good quarterback, but very good? Excellent? No idea. He hasn't gotten there to date, that's for damn sure. Franklin almost completely lost a year of development last season, and that's unfair. Mizzou had reasonably good luck with quarterback injuries from 2002-11, and Franklin's 2012 season was one giant regression to the mean.

5. There's still a chance James Franklin is not Missouri's quarterback in 2013. The odds are certainly good that he's the guy, and I think that's probably a good thing. When healthy, Franklin is a pretty good quarterback. We don't know his ceiling, but we've seen enough of his midpoint to think that the Mizzou offense could be perfectly decent with him in charge of it. If he gets hurt again, he may never get his starting job back, not if Maty Mauk seizes his opportunity, or if Corbin Berkstresser utilizes his experience and grows into the role. But if he can stay healthy, he will get the opportunity to prove haters wrong and prove exactly what he is capable of. We still don't really know yet.

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MizzouRugby: Unfortunately for James, it seems as though his legs will not be able to open up very many plays for him this year. It was woefully ineffective last year, and Henson’s offense might not call for him to do it, and that may be smart when QB runs jeopardize Franklin’s health, which is key to this team’s fortunes. Unfortunately for the coaching staff and fans, it has yet to be proven the Mizzou can be successful with James as a more traditional type passing QB. Hopefully he can recapture the offensive production of 2011, hopefully by trading some rushing yards in for passing.

The Beef: I think your comments about “proof” are a little tough given the relative success Mizzou had when Franklin threw for 2,500 yards in his one, healthy season. Franklin is on record about not really wanting to be a runner, and I feel like mentions of the offense and the calls being simpler will only help Franklin. He has a ton of weapons both behind him and to his sides, while he should also have a line which may be capable of allowing him some progression-reading time, which was rarely the case last year. If he starts all 12 games for us, then I feel he will start 13.

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