By the Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Before Missouri dives head first into its first Southeastern Conference schedule, there’s an opportunity to iron out a few kinks.
Southeastern Louisiana serves as the warm-up act on Saturday night for the Tigers, who open SEC play next weekend against No. 6 Georgia. Nobody can deny the anticipation, and the feeling the opener is just something they must get through.
Coach Gary Pinkel, center, watches the team practice.
“We don’t know anything about them,” wide receiver T.J. Moe said. “They have new coaches. We’re hardly even watching film of their players. We look a little bit just to kind of see who’s doing what.”
The looming SEC schedule feels much like 2011 for junior quarterback James Franklin, coming off his first year as starter as well as shoulder surgery in March.
“It’s going to be a little different, but at the same time, the same as last year,” Franklin said. “So I think I can relate. But at the same time I can take a lot that I learned last year and apply it and do a little better.”
The sooner preparations for Georgia can begin, the better.
“That’s one thing we want to try to focus on. Just get this first game done, and after that start working toward Georgia,” Franklin said.
It’s coach Gary Pinkel’s job to make sure players don’t buy too heavily into that attitude. He realizes it’s a tougher task this year.
“The really good teams do not prepare differently because they play a team that is better or worse than another team,” Pinkel said. “If you do that, you are not going to be very good, you are going to be very inconsistent and you are going to have major problems as the season goes on.”
Missouri was 8-5 last year, has been to a school-record seven consecutive bowl games under Pinkel and has a 10-game winning streak in season openers. The Tigers are averaging 10 wins the last four seasons, and Franklin, Moe and defensive end Brad Madison are on various preseason award watch lists.
Southeastern Louisiana first-year coach Ron Roberts, who won 47 games in five years at Division II Delta State, makes his debut against an FBS coach who is 8-0 against the lower division by an average score of 48-6.
Pinkel’s response: So what?
“This is more about Mizzou,” he said. “I do not care who we are playing, this is about us playing our best game.”
Franklin directs a spread offense that well-balanced last year, averaging 244 yards passing and 231.5 rushing and has proven players at the skill positions even without All-Big 12 tailback Henry Josey, who has had two operations for a knee injury sustained last November and has been ruled out for this season.
“I know that no matter what the play is, I can go pretty much anywhere,” Franklin said. “We’re going to have success with it, and I’m throwing to a guy who can make a small play into a big play. For me as a quarterback, it’s really comforting to know back there that it’s not just going to one or two guys.”
Behind Franklin are some question marks. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk was arrested this week on suspicion of four charges including leaving the scene of an accident after a scooter mishap. Redshirt freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was arrested and charged in May with a misdemeanor for hitting a parked car with his truck and leaving the scene.
Still, the biggest question for Missouri is on the offensive line, where there are five new starters if one counts tackle Elvis Fisher, who missed all last season with a left knee injury and was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Guard Travis Ruth (torn triceps tendon) is out until November and Jack Meiners (knee) is out this week. Guard Evan Boehm of Lee’s Summitt, Mo., one of the nation’s top recruits, will be the first freshman to start on the offensive line under Pinkel.
“I just want to make it through healthy, have a good year,” Fisher said. “Not only for myself, but also be the guy the line can look to lean on, and the team can look to lean on.”
A sellout crowd of about 71,000 for the opener would shatter the single-game attendance record for Southeastern Louisiana, which was 3-8 last year, is 37-63 since resuming football in 2003 and is picked to tie for fifth in the Southland Conference. The present attendance record is 58,119 against then-No. 5 Mississippi in 2009.
“We know it’s not going to be a bundle of roses,” Roberts said.
Game preparations were hampered for the fourth time in nine seasons at the school because of the effects or after-effects of a tropical system.
“I don’t think this is in the Coaching 101 manual,” Roberts said. “They don’t cover the ‘What do you do in case of a hurricane’ bit. There’s always something to test you, you’ve got to deal with it and not let it be too much of a distraction.”