In the latest AP Poll, the Baylor Bears held steady at No. 2. Yet, closer inspection suggests that voters are starting to regress from fully backing the nation’s top offense as the best team.
The Bears lost five number one votes, grabbing only seven this week. That could be due to Clemson rising to six top votes after a 58-point route over Miami that led to Al Golden finally losing his job. But it’s likely an in-house problem that has Baylor on a decline.
Specifically, the anticipated absence of Seth Russell that has now been confirmed by Baylor.
A 45-27 win over Iowa State that failed to cover the spread could be the culprit. But there had to be some inkling in writers’ minds that the loss of Seth Russell to a neck fracture suffered in the fourth quarter would cost Baylor dearly in the coming weeks.
While Russell has been one of the nation’s top quarterbacks this season, don’t sell his backup, freshman Jarrett Stidham, short. Stidham is a more than serviceable replacement who’s already following in the footsteps that Russell took behind Bryce Petty.
We saw Ohio State deal with its own quarterback problem on two occasions, and we all know how that turned out: A national champion that hardly struggled in postseason play.
Even within the conference, there are some points of reference that suggest that a freshman can step in and do a more than serviceable job: Two of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks this season — Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph — got their starts late last season as freshmen. Rudolph was redshirted until Daxx Garman suffered a season-ending injury, but still led the Cowboys to a dominate last quarter of the season.
If there’s any system that can succeed no matter the engineer under the hood, it’s Art Briles’ system that churns out top quarterbacks with ease. Every year since Robert Griffin’s departure there has been concern about replacing the quarterback. But as Nick Florence and Bryce Petty did, Russell quickly silenced critics.
Now it’s Stidham’s turn.
It’s typically dangerous to buy into a coach’s advertisement of one of his players, but it’s safe to trust Briles who said the Stephenville, Tex. product is the best young quarterback he’s ever been around. “He’s very polished,” Briles said.
Stidham came to campus as an early enrollee back in January as the first 5-star recruit in program history. This is why he was not redshirted, even if that meant Baylor would only have him for three seasons after Russell leaves.
So far he’s lived up to expectations as Baylor’s insurance policy.
He’s played in every game this season and has completed 24-of 28 passes for 331 yards with seven touchdowns (one rushing).
Yes, those stats have come in garbage time against typically lesser opponents, but he’s proven to be a surprisingly mature quarterback in the pocket. He’s elected to run five times in the past two games compared to just two passes. Both of those passes were touchdowns — it doesn’t get more efficient than that.
From my scouting report on Stidham:
“Stidham displays good vision and fits the high-octane offense the Bears have become synonymous with. Give him two seasons, and he could be the best thing that’s happened to Baylor since Briles joined the program.”
If Stidham can keep the Bears rolling after two weeks of running the first-team offense before facing a red-hot Oklahoma—and continue on to the team’s third straight conference title, he could prematurely fulfill the prophecy I made in July.