No. 2 Baylor has been on pace to break the all-time NCAA scoring record. But now that record and the Bears' undefeated season are very much up in the air, thanks to a neck injury QB Seth Russell suffered against Iowa State.
Baylor announced Monday that Russell will have surgery and miss the rest of the year. This is really sad for Baylor, since Russell was playing out of his mind, leading the FBS in passer rating.
With Russell out, in steps true freshman Jarrett Stidham, a former five-star recruit from a similar offense in Stephenville, Texas, where he earned All-State second-team honors despite an injury. The good news for Baylor is that Stidham is a special talent. Many believed he was the best QB recruit in the country (I personally thought he was just behind Josh Rosen, who is starting for No. 24 UCLA). He also held offers from Oregon, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
Stidham is 6'3 and a solid 210 pounds. That's not huge, but Stidham has absolutely added weight thanks to enrolling early in January and getting in the college strength program. Some thought Stidham would actually beat out Russell for the job.
And Baylor is perhaps more loaded at its other positions than ever before, from receiver Corey Coleman and his 18 touchdowns to a strong defensive line.
"It's the best team we've had in my eight years here, and I don't think it's even close," Baylor coach Art Briles said two weeks ago. That's not a declaration based solely on one player.
"We certainly have tons of confidence in Jarrett," he said Monday. "I mean, he's beyond years in maturity wise. He doesn't seem like a freshman, act like a freshman or perform like a freshman. He's a guy that's instinctively and athletically ready to work."
In limited appearances, the strong-armed Stidham has gone 24 of 28 for 331 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. The former high school track athlete and sophomore wide receiver can run a little, with 26 yards on the ground this year.
"Anytime you step out on the field in game situations, it certainly gives you some comfort," Briles said.
But Stidham is still a true freshman, and no true freshman has won a national title as a starter in 30 years, since Jamelle Holieway steered the Oklahoma Sooners to the trophy after Troy Aikman's injury. (Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston did take Florida State to glory in 2013, but the redshirt year can be really valuable, and true freshman Tim Tebow did contribute to Florida's 2006 title as a backup.)
At Baylor, Stidham has played exclusively in situations devoid of pressure.
He's mostly thrown screens and off play action against the defensive dregs of college football. He does show off a strong arm, consistent with what he showed during his recruitment. Soon, though, Stidham will face some better defenses. And though Baylor's offense is great at scheming receivers wide open in space, those receivers will be slightly less open later on in the season.
The true measure of a quarterback is whether he can stand in the pocket and deliver on passing downs, when the running game, and thus play action, isn't a threat. So far, Stidham has not been asked to do that, though his physical skills suggest he could be better equipped to do it than other true freshmen.
* * *
SB Nation presents: FSU shocker, USC dominance highlight Week 8