The biggest question mark for the 2011 Missouri Tigers football team seemed to be at the quarterback position. Blaine Gabbert left the program early to become a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, which swiftly thrust sophomore James Franklin into a starting role in only his second year on campus.
A four-star recruit out of Texas, Franklin was thought of quite highly among Missouri fans. Still, no matter the accolades coming out of high school, young quarterbacks' first years are usually a mix of spectacular and questionable, as seen in Blaine Gabbert's 2009 season and Chase Daniel's 2006 season.
So how do James Franklin's first six collegiate starts measure up with the debut years of those NFL quarterbacks that have come before him? Let's dive into some simple stats:
Chase Daniel (2006 - 13 games)
287-for-452 (63.5%), 3,527 yards, 7.8 yards per attempt, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Blaine Gabbert (2009 - 13 games)
262-for-445 (58.9%), 3,593 yards, 8.1 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
James Franklin (2011 - 6 games)
116-for-189 (61.4%), 1,488 yards, 7.9 yards per attempt, 10 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
James Franklin (2011 - projected for 13 games)
251-for-410 (61.2%), 3,224 yards, 7.9 yards per attempt, 22 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
Those are a lot of numbers to digest in a short amount of time, but let's see what kind of conclusions we can make from the stats above.
Firstly, there have been some great quarterbacks at Mizzou in recent years and by these simple stats, James Franklin looks like he actually is on track to be the next great quarterback at Mizzou.
Gabbert was a sometimes frustrating quarterback in his first year as a starter because of his lack of accuracy on downfield throws, which can be seen in his 59% completion percentage. Gabbert was also more hit-or-miss on a week-to-week basis, compiling a quarterback rating of over 170.0 in five games while throwing all nine of his interceptions in just four of the team's other eight games.
Franklin has started out his college career more consistently than Gabbert in a game-to-game sense, but mental lapses by Franklin have appeared in every game, if only for a drive or two.
For example, Franklin played wonderfully against Iowa State this weekend, but his final line was marred by two interceptions that occurred on back-to-back drives in the second quarter. After that mental lapse, he rebounded to finish 20-for-28 with 289 yards and three touchdowns.
When looking at how Franklin compares with one of the great college quarterbacks of the last 10 years, Chase Daniel, his numbers look all the more impressive. While Franklin's total yardage is not as prolific as Daniel's first year, the yards per attempt is similar and interception totals look like they will be similar when this year is complete.
Throw these passing stats in with the rushing ability that Franklin has shown (94 carries for 390 yards and seven touchdowns - numbers that include sacks), and you get a pretty dynamic college football player as a sophomore.
The stats haven't really been inflated by poor competition, either. The Tigers have already played three conference games, including two against undefeated teams Oklahoma and Kansas State. Add another tough road game at Arizona State in there, and Franklin's stats look that much more impressive.
Franklin has also been extremely effective when his team needs him most: late in games. He led a furious comeback to force overtime against Arizona State in his first road start, made the final score against Oklahoma look respectable by finishing strong and nearly completed an unbelievable comeback in the fourth quarter against Kansas State on the road.
He's not without faults, as seen by some questionable throws into tight coverage, but James Franklin has been a shining star in an otherwise lackluster 3-3 start for the Missouri Tigers this season. Even with a strong senior class leaving after this season, the Tigers look to be players in the grand scheme of the Big 12 (or SEC?) for the next two years that Franklin figures to be at the helm.
After Franklin leaves, we can only assume that Gary Pinkel and his staff will have the next big thing for Missouri football coming up right behind him. Have they given fans any reason to doubt that this will be the case?
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