By The Associated Press
Coach Gary Pinkel runs out with the team before Missouri’s game against Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 in Columbia, Mo.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — An easy way to get Gary Pinkel agitated is to ask the Missouri coach what he learned in a hard-knocks introduction to the SEC.
The Tigers were 5-7 last year, ending a string of eight consecutive bowl appearances. He blames injuries to quarterback James Franklin and the offensive line, and not the increased degree of difficulty jumping from the Big 12 to the nation’s premier conference.
The key to Year 2, Pinkel says, is a simple matter of avoiding injuries and turnovers.
“There’s no surprises, it’s a great league and I’m glad we’re in it. We should be in it,” Pinkel said. “I’ve been in this business a long time and I didn’t all of a sudden wake up one day and go ‘Wow!’ Didn’t happen, OK? We just struggled and I’ve got to do a better job.”
Missouri got whipped at home by 32 by Alabama, and by 21 each by South Carolina and Georgia. A highlight of sorts was a 7-point loss at Florida, and the Tigers bowed out with a 30-point setback at Texas A&M.
They’ll begin trying to rev it up for Year 2 with a preseason schedule that starts Aug. 31 at home against Murray State.
Five things to watch as Missouri tries to prove it’s ready for the SEC:
1. CAPTAIN FRANKLIN: The senior quarterback is among the four team captains along with wide receiver L’Damian Washington, LB Andrew Wilson and DB E.J. Gaines, a fairly clear sign it’s his job to lose despite Pinkel’s protests to the contrary. Pinkel repeatedly said getting voted captain by teammates doesn’t mean anything, although he also added that in 23 years of coaching he could remember just four captains who weren’t starters. New offensive coordinator Josh Henson’s scheme should help Franklin stay upright with more straight-ahead plays and company in the backfield.
2. NON-CONFERENCE FODDER?: A 62-10 opening rout over Southeast Louisiana was the lone breather last year in a 3-1 slate. Syracuse ensured a losing season with a 31-27 victory in Week 11 in Columbia, Mo., and in September the margin of victory was less than a TD over Arizona State and Central Florida. The Tigers have enough of a challenge with a grueling October that features Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on consecutive weeks without beating themselves up early. Toledo is 26-13 the last three years, has 16 returning starters and gets Missouri at home. Arkansas State has won the Sun Belt Conference the last two years and won the Go-Daddy.com Bowl last season. Indiana was 4-8 but won at Illinois and lost a 2-point shootout to Ohio State.
3. JOSEY’S BACK: Tailback Henry Josey was all-Big 12 in 2011 and one of the more electric talents in the nation, rushing for 1,168 yards with an 8.1-yard average before a devastating left knee injury making a cut late in the season. He’s healthy again after an injury that required multiple surgeries and sidelined him all last season, returning to full contact in the spring. The Tigers can use an impact ball carrier to replace Kendial Lawrence, with Marcus Murphy also in the mix. They averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2011, and just 3.7 yards last season.
4. DGB TIME: Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was rated the No. 1 overall prospect by many services coming out of Springfield, Mo., with NFL-ready measureables. He didn’t arrive a star, getting one start as a freshman with 28 receptions, a 14.1-yard average and five TDs. DGB earned a “most improved” nod at his position in the spring, and production figures to rise this fall with or without a healthy Franklin.
5. INJURY BUG: Following the NFL’s lead, Pinkel has eliminated a handful of two-a-day practices and cut out a segment, too, in hopes of conserving players for the long haul, and avoiding the rash of injuries that hit in 2012. “You go to an NFL camp and it’s always about staying on your feet, staying on your feet,” Pinkel said. “Two years in a row we’ve had some difficulty.” Missouri had at least two replacements on the offensive line most of the year, with freshman offensive lineman Evan Boehm the only player to start every game, and Pinkel said Franklin was “more injured than any quarterback I’ve ever coached—tenfold.”