Just a little something on Mizzou QB James Franklin, who closes his MU career Friday night in the Cotton Bowl ...
I hope that Franklin goes out as a winner. I've always been impressed by him. He's just a nice man. A gentleman. Franklin is polite, speaks thoughtfully, and avoids bombast. There's an impressive dignity about Franklin that makes you feel good about his future — no matter what he does with his life after football.
Franklin probably hasn't been the most popular QB at Mizzou, which is understandable to a point. Coach Gary Pinkel has recruited and cultivated an impressive sequence of quarterbacks, and Franklin has had to compete against the memories and football success created by Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert.
It's hasn't been easy.
Smith was the most productive all-purpose quarterback in MU history, with more than 13,000 combined passing-rushing yards. Smith ran for 45 touchdowns and passed for 56 and helped lead Mizzou out of a downturn that set in near the end of the Larry Smith coaching regime. Smith was Pinkel's first MU recruit that turned into a star, and Smith will always be associated with the turnaround of Mizzou football.
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Daniel led MU to 30 wins in his three seasons as a starter; only eight FBS teams won more games over that time. Daniel passed for 101 touchdowns in his MU career, and was the undeniable on-field leader during a special time in program history. Daniel sealed his legacy by passing for 361 yards and 3 TDs in the thrilling 36-28 win over Kansas in the Nov. 24, 2007 game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The victory lifted Mizzou to No. 1 in the nation for a week.
Gabbert was the local hero, the high school star from St. Louis, recruited by most of the major programs from coast to coast. Gabbert looked the part; if you were casting a film about college football and needed someone to fill the role of the All-American QB, Gabbert would get the gig. He had two good seasons at Mizzou and became the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Having a quarterback selected so high in the NFL draft added prestige to the Mizzou program.
Franklin probably suffered in comparison to Smith, Daniel and Gabbert. And because of injuries, MU fans got a chance to see Franklin's successor. And everyone was impressed by Maty Mauk, who takes over in 2014. That's a hard spot for a veteran quarterback to be in — having to follow three star quarterbacks, then sit and mend a shoulder injury while the team's fans were getting fired up by Mauk, the next QB in line.
The injuries not only hurt Franklin physically, but did some damage to his profile. It wasn't Franklin's fault; this is a tough game and players get hurt. But Mizzou starting quarterbacks hadn't missed games for a long a time. And Pinkel didn't help with that regrettable pregame interview before an early game in 2012, when the coach told ESPN that Franklin said he couldn't play.
Fairly or unfairly, Pinkel left the impression that Franklin begged out of playing. It wasn't true, but the perception stuck. And that led to criticism of Franklin being "soft," as if the kid had an obligation to shoot himself up with painkiller and risk a more serious injury by playing hurt.
I've always suspected that the skepticism over Franklin's character materialized, in part, because of his sensitive, soft spoken ways. He never felt the need to jump through hoops for anyone in an extroverted, look-at-me way. But that doesn't mean he didn't care, or wasn't a competitor. He just isn't one of these rah-rah live wires that fans like so much.
But when healthy, Franklin performed very well and had nothing to apologize for. Even though he missed time in 2012 and '13 with the injuries, he ends his Mizzou career with an impressive record that matches up with his predecessors better than you'd assume.
Among the last four MU quarterbacks, Franklin ranks second to Daniel in completion percentage; is second to Gabbert in yards per completion; is second to Daniel in passer rating; is second to Daniel in yards per passing attempt; is second to Smith in rushing yards per game; is second to Smith in career rushing TDs; and is third behind Daniel and Smith in touchdown passes. In terms of TD-pass rate — the percentage of passes that result in a touchdown — Franklin ranks second to Daniel.
I could be wrong about this, but I don't think Franklin has received the appreciation he deserves. Maybe it's because he's been misunderstood. Maybe it's because he had to follow three very popular quarterbacks and lacked their charisma and skill to enhance his image through the media.
But Franklin has been a damned good QB, and he's handled himself with grace, and that's why I hope he finishes with a grand performance against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
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