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  • James Franklin back at QB for No. 8 Missouri

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    • No. 24 Mississippi's next test: No. 8 Missouri
      DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer

      OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's nationally ranked again after a four-game winning streak that's included some record-setting offensive...
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      No. 24 Mississippi's next test: No. 8 Missouri
      DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer

      OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi's nationally ranked again after a four-game winning streak that's included some record-setting offensive numbers.

      But the No. 24 Rebels' last three victories — over Idaho, Arkansas and Troy — haven't exactly been against the nation's elite. Now the Rebels (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) get a shot at No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1) on Saturday in a much more difficult test.

      "It's a huge week for us," Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We get to see how good we really are."

      The Rebels' offense shattered the school record with 751 total yards in last week's 51-21 victory over Troy.

      It was the exclamation point for Ole Miss during a remarkable month of offense. The Rebels have had at least 525 total yards in all four games and are averaging nearly 43 points.

      But Missouri's defense is one of the best in the SEC — especially when it comes to big plays. The Tigers lead the league with 34 sacks and 17 interceptions.

      Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said it's vital that his offense is able to run effectively against Missouri because the Tigers' defense is very good when facing obvious passing situations.

      "They're a scary team to look at on film, especially when others are trying to run it," Freeze said. "I do think we've progressed and it will be a good test Saturday night to see how much."

      The Rebels' running game should be helped by the return of senior Jeff Scott. The 5-foot-8, 162-pound senior was one of the SEC's best during the opening month of the season, but a deep thigh bruise caused him to miss three games and the majority of a fourth.

      He returned to action against Troy, carrying the ball 11 times for 54 yards. He'll likely share time with I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, two sophomores who have emerged in Scott's absence.

      Ole Miss has also improved along the offensive line. Laremy Tunsil has emerged as the starting left tackle as a true freshman, earning SEC offensive lineman of the week honors after the Rebels beat Arkansas beat Nov. 9.

      He's meshed well with a group of veterans like center Evan Swindall, guard Emmanuel McCray and right tackle Pierce Burton.

      "As the season has progressed our offensive line has gotten better and better," Burton said.

      McCray said Missouri's defense is talented, but it's the effort the Rebels must match.

      "They play pretty hard," McCray said. "Their biggest thing is that they all have good motors. It's not just about outstanding athletic ability. There's nobody out there that's like (South Carolina's) Jadaveon Clowney. But they all play as a unit and they play pretty hard."

      Ole Miss has played plenty of elite teams this season and only one of the games — a 25-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama — was a blowout. The Rebels have also had close losses to No. 6 Auburn and No. 10 Texas A&M and beat No. 18 LSU on Oct. 19.

      Now it's a chance to face a Missouri, which has been somewhat of a surprise in the Eastern Division after struggling in 2012 during its first season in the SEC.

      "We've had our share of tests and this will be another one Saturday night," Freeze said.

      Missouri must beat Ole Miss and Texas A&M to clinch the Eastern Division title. The Tigers are coming off a bye week following a 48-17 victory over Kentucky on Nov. 9.

      Senior James Franklin is expected to start for the Tigers at quarterback against Ole Miss. He's thrown for 1,577 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions this season, but has missed most of the past four games with a shoulder injury.
  • COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri has its senior captain back at quarterback.
    Coach Gary Pinkel said Monday that James Franklin is "100 percent cleared" and will lead the eighth-ranked Tigers at Ole Miss this weekend after missing four starts with a sprained throwing shoulder.
    The quarterback had been enjoying a career season through five games and positioned his team for a win at Georgia on Oct. 12 before getting slammed to the ground by two defenders.
    "At first, you could tell that it hurt James a lot," center Evan Boehm said. "And the only thing you can do is go up and be like, 'Hey, man, we're with you. We feel your pain. You're going to bounce back and you're going to be a great quarterback.'"
    Franklin wasn't so sure he would be back after missing four starts with a myriad of injuries last season to his head, shoulder and legs. But a talk with his father, Willie, the day after the setback helped him realize there are many things in life to be more upset or sad about.
    "Even if they told me I would've been done for sure," Franklin said, "I would've worked as hard as I could to come back."
    The 6-foot-2, 230-pound native of Corinth, Texas, watched Missouri (9-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) compile a 3-1 record with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, who had thrown three career passes before relieving Franklin against the Bulldogs.
    While the only loss came in a 27-24, double-overtime thriller against South Carolina, the offense regressed slightly, unable to execute the read-option play as well as it had with Franklin. Mauk said his mentor, though hurt, would stand on the sidelines with him to help read defenses.
    "It's not like he's been standing around over at the library," quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said.
    Franklin has practiced for three weeks and played two series in the fourth quarter of the Tigers' last game, a 48-17 romp over Kentucky on Nov. 9, handing the ball off in each of his five snaps. His task gets considerably more difficult this week at Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3), which knocked off LSU earlier this season in Oxford.
    Missouri must win Saturday and again next week at home against Texas A&M to win the SEC East in just its second season in the league. South Carolina finished 6-2 in conference after defeating Florida 19-14 on Saturday and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Tigers.
    Pinkel noted that his team still controls its destiny, so there's no reason to fixate on the do-or-die nature of Missouri's final two games.
    "I'll be real disappointed if we start putting those pressures on ourselves," he said. "That doesn't help you play well."
    Helping matters will be the return of Franklin and his cool demeanor. A three-year starter, the dual-threat quarterback emits a sense of confidence in the huddle that helps keep his teammates grounded, Boehm said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Franklin's gaudy statistics help, too.
    His pass-completion rate of 67.7 percent trails only Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron in the SEC, and Franklin threw 14 touchdown passes in his first six games. He added three scores on the ground. With Franklin, Missouri ranked in the top 12 nationally in total offense (515.7 yards), scoring offense (45.7 points) and third-down conversion rate (51 percent).
    Offensive coordinator Josh Henson said there could be some nerves the first time Franklin gets hit again, but the quarterback knows there's no use worrying about it.
    "If you're going to go play, you're going to get hit," Henson said. "It's just the way it is. So he's going to get hit and he's just going to have to play through it."
    If he manages to stay healthy, Franklin could give Missouri a chance to win its first conference championship since 1969.
    "At the end of the day, this team is special because they're a bunch of kids that have the bodies of men that just like going out there and knocking heads together and playing football together," guard Max Copeland said. "That's what it's all about. We love playing this game together."
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