Missouri quarterback James Franklin will get the nod for the Missouri Tigers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) Saturday night in a must-win game against the Ole Miss Rebels, after the senior signal-caller suffered a shoulder injury in the 41-26 victory over Georgia on Oct. 12.
In six games as a starter to open the season, Franklin completed 67.7 percent of his passes (132-of-195) for 1,577 yards, 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions; adding 290 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Redshirt Freshman Maty Mauk filled in admirably for Franklin since then, leading the Tigers to a 3-1 record as a starter and to the doorstep of the SEC East title.
It'll now be up to Franklin to win Missouri's final two games—against the Rebels and Texas A&M—and lead his team through that door and into the SEC Championship Game.
"James is 100 percent, and we've had some extra practices because of the bye week so that's been a plus for us," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "All of our players really respect Maty Mauk—a young player to come in and play the way he did as a redshirt freshman. James, when he went down a few weeks ago, was statistically one of the top quarterbacks in the country."
|Tale of the Tape - James Franklin vs. Maty Mauk|
|Statistical Category||James Franklin||Maty Mauk|
It's the right move for Pinkel and for Missouri.
Mauk was charged with keeping the ship afloat, and he succeeded. But when it comes to docking it, you need your captain. Your ace. Your leader.
James Franklin is that leader.
Missouri's schedule set up well for Franklin to come back now. He saw mop up duty two weeks ago in a win over Kentucky, and has a bye week to get mentally and physically prepared for Missouri's biggest game of its SEC existence.
"He's had a lot of experience," Pinkel said. "It's a lot different being a player who's played a lot over the years versus a young player and an inexperienced player."
Mauk's only experience as the No. 1 quarterback on the road was at Georgia when Franklin went down in the second half, and against Kentucky. They held on with Mauk against Georgia, and Kentucky isn't exactly the most intimidating atmosphere in the SEC.
Ole Miss is a different animal.
The Rebels are getting healthy defensively, defensive end Robert Nkemediche is fresh off a performance that earned him defensive lineman of the week honors from the conference office, and a win over Missouri would signify a major step forward for the program under second-year head coach Hugh Freeze.
Considering the stakes for Missouri and the atmosphere that awaits the Tigers in Oxford, starting Franklin over Mauk is the smart move by Pinkel and the coaching staff.
Either way though, it's a good problem to have.
Pinkel is getting his No. 1 guy back at a critical time and knows his backup is ready to handle the load in the short-term as well as long-term.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.