In any sport injuries can turn a title contending team upside down. Just look at Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys to see a perfect example. This past weekend the Baylor Bears lost one of their Heisman candidates and team leaders for the season. Junior starting quarterback Seth Russell suffered a broken bone in his neck and underwent surgery to repair damage to his cervical vertebrae. The recovery time is estimated to be 6 months.
Russell was putting up eye popping numbers before his season came to an abrupt end. In 7 games he threw for 2,104 yards and 29 touchdowns with 6 rushing scores. The nation’s top rated passer led the Bears to 61 points a game, which was good enough to earn the title of the most potent offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Unless you’re the Ohio State Buckeyes of last year, any other team would be sent into a tail spin after the loss of their star quarterback. Fortunately for Baylor, they have a competent backup ready to fill the void left by Russell.
Baylor has been known as a quarterback friendly offense during head coach Art Briles tenure. Some may call it a “plug-and-play” system where quarterbacks can flourish. Over the past 5 years the university has seen RG3, Nick Florence, Bryce Petty, and Russell, for the beginning of this season, shred opposing defenses. I don’t expect any different results with true freshman Jarrett Stidham stepping into the starting role.
This time last year Stidham was leading Stephenville High, the school that Briles led to 4 state championships from 1988-1999, to the Texas Class 4A playoffs. He will be asked to complete the daunting task of leading the Bears to their third straight Big 12 title and their first College Football Playoff. Briles seems to have the utmost confidence in the youngster. “We certainly have tons of confidence in Jarrett,” Briles said. “He doesn’t seem like a freshman, act like a freshman or perform like a freshman. “
Stidham was a 4-Star recruit coming out of high school and was sought after by many teams. He originally committed to my alma mater Texas Tech, and then subsequently decommitted to attend Baylor. Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury thinks Stidham will assimilate just fine into the offense. “They have an incredible cast around him, and he’s as talented a thrower as you’ll be around.” The huge loss for Tech was a major prize Baylor could develop and eventually have take the reins for one of the best offenses in the country. Little did they know it would come eight games into the college career of the true freshman.
Stidham has seen some game action this year, mostly in mop up duty, with Baylor winning by an average margin of 36 point per game. He has completed 86 percent of his passes for 331 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions leading to an absurd passing efficiency of 255.7. In fairness, all of this came with mostly second and third stringers in the games he’s appeared in.
Stidham will have plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal. Russell’s fellow Heisman candidate, wide receiver Corey Coleman, the FBS leader with 18 touchdown catches, will be a go-to target for Stidham in this prolific offense. Stidham will also be working behind an experienced offensive line which has helped produce Big 12 rushing leader Shock Linwood. This will do wonders in taking pressure off the inexperienced first year QB.
However, the path will not be easy for the Baylor Bears. Upcoming games include a home battle with 14th ranked Oklahoma before consecutive road games against undefeated Oklahoma State and what will be likely the de facto Big 12 championship game against the vaunted TCU Horned Frogs.
Time will tell what Russell’s unfortunate injury will mean to Baylor and the the Big 12 as a whole. If history is a precursor for the future, I think the Bears will rally from Russell’s injury and Stidham will step in without the offense skipping a beat. Only time will though, and once again we’re in for an exciting finish in the frenzied Big 12.
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