Jarrett Stidham Keeps Baylor's Playoff Hopes Alive
The Baylor Bears are riding high in the AP polls and are the most dominate offensive team in the country, ranked first in total yards with 4,803 (686 per game) and first in scoring, averaging 61.1 points. Currently ranked second in the polls, Baylor is seen as the favorite to win the BIG 12 Conference and have the second best odds to win the 2016 National Championship at 5 to 1 according to Vegas Insider.com.
Junior quarterback Seth Russell is a big part of the Bears’ success. He leads the country in passer rating and touchdowns and is being talked about as being the best Baylor quarterback in history, even better than Robert Griffin III.
However, Baylor’s playoff chances may have suffered a setback after Saturday’s game against Iowa State. Late in the fourth quarter, Russell took a hit and was immediately taken out of the game. No one seemed to notice at the time, but it’s now known that Russell broke a bone in his neck and is out for the remainder of the season.
How is Baylor going to compete without a proven quarterback running their high-powered offense? Enter freshman Jarrett Stidham.
Stidham steps into the starting role as a true freshman, but don't let that fool you. Coming out of Stephenville High School in Texas, ESPN had Stidham as the 38th overall recruit and second rated duel-threat quarterback. He accounted for almost 4,000 total yards and 50 touchdowns during his time at Stephenville.
But how well does he actually fit into Baylor’s offense? Coach Art Briles has been known for running a spread offense and some of his quarterbacks have been given the label of a ‘system quarterback’. Guys like Griffin and Bryce Petty ran the offense to perfection, but Russell may be the best of the bunch. Luckily, Stidham has the skill set to step right in and pick up where Russell left off.
Stidham won’t be going into the game against Kansas State in a few weeks completely inexperienced. Thanks to Baylor scoring points in bunches and essentially wrapping up games early, Stidham has seen playing time. So far this year, he has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards and 6 touchdowns. He saw the majority of snaps against Kansas in Week 5 where he went 9 of 10 for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
The young quarterback won’t have to do it all on his own either. Baylor has the athletes on offense to help ease the transition. Corey Coleman is arguably the best receiver in the country, leading the nation with 18 touchdowns, which is also a Baylor single-season record. Having a top rated receiver as the primary target for a freshman is only going to make things easier. Running back Shock Linwood takes pressure off the passing game accounting for 974 yards and adding 9 touchdowns as part of Baylor’s rushing attack which has gained 2,368 yards on the ground, second in the country.
Baylor could easily struggle with the hardest part of their schedule coming up. Luckily, the Bears have a bye week to get Stidham up to speed and comfortable with the offense before heading to Kansas State. Three of the last five games are on the road, including trips to No. 12 Oklahoma State and No. 5 TCU. Baylor's biggest test will be TCU whose offense is just as lethal as the Bears’. Stidham and Coleman could have a rough time keeping pace with TCU quarterback Treveon Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson, both of whom are on Heisman watch.
No true freshman quarterback has led their team to a national championship since 1985, when Jamelle Holieway lead the Oklahoma Sooners to a title, but Stidham could easily be the next. In a quarterback-friendly system, he should be able to quickly find success and lead Baylor into the CFP.