Missouri QB James Franklin might return vs. Tennessee

Missouri quarterback James Franklin, projected out 3-5 weeks with a shoulder sprain, might return to action sooner than expected for a Tigers team in need of its leader to carry an improbable SEC East Division lead across the goal line.

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At stake: An SEC title game berth, an accomplishment Missouri would check off in its second year in the SEC, and one that South Carolina needed 18 years to tackle. Franklin's status was upgraded to questionable, and according to stltoday.com, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Franklin could play as early as Saturday against Tennessee.

"We practiced (Sunday)," Pinkel said. "He threw the ball, did some good things with that. Is he ready yet? We don't know at all. When he feels ready is when he'll play. And he'll move to the starting position when that happens. It's good to see him out there throwing it around. He's certainly questionable."

Freshman Maty Mauk would get his third consecutive start if Franklin cannot go. Mauk has filled in admirably in Franklin's absence, leading the Tigers past Florida's vaunted secondary in his first start and throwing for 249 yards and a TD in a double-overtime loss to South Carolina.

Franklin had enjoyed a stellar senior season that would serve him well in attracting NFL attention, but suffered a shoulder sprain Oct. 12 during the Tigers' upset win over Georgia. On Monday, running back Marcus Murphy seemed to believe Franklin's time on the sideline looks to be at an end.

"He looks 100 percent, I would say," Murphy said. "He was throwing balls that were accurate. And he had a good attitude. That just shows he's ready. I'll be glad to see him back out there."

Before the injury, Franklin had passed for 1,577 yards, a 67 percent completion rate, and a 14-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in leading Missouri to an undefeated start.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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