Stupid Georgia

John Bazemore/Associated Press

We've gone full circle in 15 months.

At the center of our circle is James Franklin.

Joining him is Georgia.

Sept. 8, 2012, Missouri vs. Georgia in Columbia.

This day was historic, Missouri's first-ever game in the SEC. This wasn't a football game, it was a celebration.

It was Super Bowl Sunday, New Year's Eve, Cinco de Mayo and your 21st birthday, all wrapped into one.

Missouri led late in the third quarter, but Georgia scored the game's final 24 points to pull away for a 41-20 win. The Tigers lost more than a game, however, as Franklin re-injured his right shoulder --- the shoulder he'd had surgery on a few months earlier.

That was the start of a long, painful season.

"The injuries he had last year ... when you think of all the quarterbacks I've coached, he had more on one body than I've seen in 25 years, combined," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel

Shoulder, knee and a concussion would top the list.

"James was hit in the mouth a little bit, but he certainly gave a great, great effort," Pinkel continued. "He's grown a lot, he's matured a lot. He wants to win."

And win he has. Which is not to say he's stayed injury-free.

Oct. 12, 2013, Missouri at Georgia.

The senior is injured again --- and again it's his right shoulder. Stupid Georgia. He didn't start again until more than a month later, when the Tigers played at Ole Miss.

Unlike last season, however, this season didn't fall apart after Franklin (and many others) went down. Hardly. And unlike Corbin Berkstresser (remember him?), Maty Mauk was more than a capable replacement for Franklin.

"It's very unusual at this level, when you lose your starting quarterback who's having a great year and all of a sudden you have to throw a redshirt freshman in there who hasn't played very much, it's tough," Pinkel said. "But Maty just did a phenomenal job.

"We didn't have our starting quarterback for one-third of the season. For him to come in and play at the level he did (Mauk was 3-1 as a starter, 1-0 as a closer), that was really, really important for us."

Besides his shoulder, it hurt Franklin to watch.

"It was definitely frustrating, having to watch from the sidelines, because I wanted to be out there, I wanted to help my team win," said Franklin, who's 8-0 as a starter this season and has thrown for 1,952 yards and 16 touchdowns, compared to just four interceptions.

"At the same time, it was good to see them winning, and knowing they could still go out there and make plays. Maty did a great job. It was exciting to see that."

Dec. 7, 2013, Missouri vs. Auburn in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Speaking of exciting ... here we go, Tiger fans, as No. 5 Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC) gets set to clash with No. 3 Auburn (11-1, 7-1) for all the SEC marbles at 3 p.m. Saturday.

"I'm pretty excited, to be honest," Franklin said with a big smile. "I'm pretty thankful to be a part of it and a part of this team. It's one of the goals we set before the season and to get to where we are ... I feel really good."

Lest we forget, the Tigers stumbled across the finish line at 5-7 last year.

"I couldn't be more proud of these guys," senior receiver L'Damian Washington said. "The seniors and captains came in with a vision, and that was to have an 11-plus win season. The younger guys bought into it, and when you get a locker room full of guys who believe in each other, you potentially have something special."

It is indeed special. And nobody is happier to have Franklin back than Washington.

"Having James back there at quarterback, I think it just adds a little more confidence to our offense," said Washington, who's caught 44 passes (team-high 18.7 avg.) with 10 touchdown receptions, tied for the team lead with Dorial Green-Beckham.

"We know how relentless he is. That's not to take anything away from Maty Mauk, because he came and did tremendous things as our quarterback. But with the struggles James went through last year and to see him come back, it does a lot for our team. We wouldn't have gotten this far without him.

"He's our team leader and we just have to follow him."

Here's hoping this encounter with Georgia is pain-free for him.