COLUMBIA — Missouri kicks off its first season as a member of the Southeastern Conference not with a clash against Georgia, or South Carolina, or Alabama. It’s a relatively low-profile game against a relatively low-profile opponent.
Southeastern Louisiana, coming off a 3-8 season in the Southland Conference, seems ripe for the picking.
So, in a game that isn’t expected to be close — or dry — why should Missouri fans watch? Believe it or not, the plotlines are there, hidden somewhere beneath the flashy uniforms and hope of a new season.
Missouri has a few simple objectives going into the weekend: stay healthy and win.
Offensive line adjusts to new faces
After a fall camp full of unfortunate falls for Missouri’s offensive line, only one of 2011’s starters (Justin Britt) will be lining up in front of James Franklin on Saturday. The Tigers will get sixth-year senior Elvis Fisher back at left tackle, though, after the Florida native missed all of last season with a patellar tendon tear of his left knee.
While Missouri’s tackles have 53 combined starts on their resumes, the other three interior linemen have exactly zero. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Morse will be taking over at center for injured senior Travis Ruth, who tore his triceps in fall camp and will miss most of the season.
The guards, freshman Evan Boehm and redshirt junior Max Copeland, will also be making their first career starts. Boehm was one of Missouri’s top recruits in their 2012 class, and at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, he certainly looks the part.
Copeland, a walk-on who was awarded a scholarship in fall camp, will fill the hole left by injured senior Jack Meiners, who sprained his left knee in Missouri’s final preseason scrimmage last Thursday.
After repeated injuries throughout camp, the offensive line can’t afford to take any more hits. The team hopes that this group can have success while also staying upright on Faurot Field’s wet turf Saturday night.
Franklin back at quarterback
After tearing the labrum of his right shoulder while jumping on a loose fumble during spring practice, junior quarterback James Franklin returns for his second season under center for Missouri.
The quarterback, who threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for 15 more last season, will probably not get the call to run the ball as much this season. He shouldn’t need to, with a stable of capable receivers at his side.
Franklin is completely healthy going into the opener, having shown recovered arm strength and accuracy after the labrum tear. Still, as its first season in the SEC approaches, everything Missouri does goes through Franklin.
Keeping him upright will be the first priority on Saturday night. Allowing him to spread the ball around to T.J. Moe, Marcus Lucas, L’Damian Washington and freshman Dorial Green-Beckham will likely be the second.
The DGB Debut
Dorial Green-Beckham may have been Missouri’s most popular player in fall camp, without ever playing a snap of college football.
That will change Saturday, when Rivals’ No. 1 recruit in 2012 lines up alongside a few of Missouri’s more experienced receiving options.
Coach Gary Pinkel says Green-Beckham will line up in multiple positions during games, including the standard outside position as well as the inside slot, where former Missouri tight end Michael Egnew found success the last couple seasons.
With Green-Beckham’s 6-foot-6 frame and 4.4-second 40-yard dash speed, he gives the coaching staff a lot of flexibility in ways to use him.
And while he led Missouri in receptions in the team’s final two scrimmages, it’s unclear how many opportunities Green-Beckham get when the games actually matter.
One thing is certain, though: when No. 15 (Green-Beckham) trots on to the field for Missouri’s opening drive Saturday, thousands inside Memorial Stadium will be watching.
Southeastern Louisiana defense (or lack thereof)
The Lions return nine defensive starters from a group that finished 114th nationally last year and gave up an average of 222 yards per game on the ground.
If the rain causes Missouri to run the ball more than originally planned, starting tailback Kendial Lawrence could find a lot of running room despite the patched-up offensive line.