Missouri fans are likely ready to put the 2012 season in the rearview mirror. The Tigers went 5-7 and did not qualify for a bowl game for the first time since the 2004 season.
But the earlier end to the season allows Missouri to shift the focus to 2013 right away.
The nonconference portion of next year’s schedule includes home games against Murray State and Toledo, a game at Indiana and one more game yet to be added, likely a home game against a lesser opponent. This portion of the schedule is pretty manageable and could likely provide the Tigers with four of the six wins needed for bowl eligibility.
As for the conference portion of the 2013 schedule, well, SEC schedules are seldom described as “manageable.” Missouri plays SEC road games at Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky and Ole Miss. The Tigers play conference home games with Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
Missouri kicks off SEC play Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt, a game that will be big for both teams as they try to claw their way up the SEC East Division standings.
It’s too early to project much for 2013, but here are three key issues to watch for next year.
The quarterback situation: Missouri’s starting quarterback, junior James Franklin, struggled to stay healthy this season. He missed four starts and was knocked out of two other games.
When healthy, Franklin had some fine moments, but whether it was stronger SEC defenses, injury issues, or the team struggling around him, his stats had noticeable drops this year. In his second year as a starter, his completion percentage fell from 63.3 last year to 59.4 this season, his efficiency rating fell from 139.9 to 123.6, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio dropped from 21-to-11 to 10-to-7 this year.
Expect Franklin to battle for the starting job in spring and preseason practices with Corbin Berkstresser, who will be a sophomore next year but would need to make substantial progress, and intriguing freshman Maty Mauk, who redshirted this season. As a senior next year, I’d still expect Franklin to be the starter, but finding an effective quarterback, and keeping him healthy, is a must.
Replacing Richardson: As expected, defensive tackle Shelden Richardson declared for the NFL draft and won’t be back next year. Richardson made several game-altering plays last year for a Tiger defense that was generally dependable. Defense wins in the SEC, so finding a player to fill Richardson’s playmaking void is another key issue.
Pinkel factor: Head coach Gary Pinkel will be 61 when next season starts. Despite the disappointing ending to this season, maybe because of it, Pinkel said after the last game he couldn’t wait to get back to his office to start working again Monday for next year.
He’s had some off-field issues over the past year or so, and coaching big-time college football can be grinding profession, so it’s hard to guess how much longer he’ll want to coach. But he’ll be the coach for next season, which will be a big one for the program he’d been leading for 12 years. Pinkel’s understandably feeling some pressure after this season, so getting at least back to bowl eligibility will be crucial.