Baylor’s College Football Playoff hopes took a hit this week, as quarterback Seth Russell was lost for the year due to a neck injury suffered in the win against Iowa State. Russell was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks so far this season, throwing for 2,104 yards and 29 scores and rushing for 402 yards and six touchdowns.
There’s no doubt Russell is going to be missed. After all, Baylor’s upcoming slate is the toughest portion of its 2015 schedule. However, while Russell is a big loss, the Bears have a talented option at quarterback in true freshman Jarrett Stidham.
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Stidham has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns in limited action this season. How can Stidham keep Baylor in the mix for a shot at a national championship? Here are five reasons to believe the Bears can still reach the Playoff this season:
5 Reasons Baylor Can Make the CFB Playoff With Jarrett Stidham
1. Jarrett Stidham... Baylor’s Most Talented QB Since Robert Griffin III
Even though Russell was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks this season, Stidham may have more overall talent. The recruiting rankings back this line of thinking, as the true freshman was No. 38 in the 2015 247Sports Composite and was regarded as a four-star recruit. By comparison, Russell ranked No. 723 overall and was a three-star recruit. Recruiting rankings aren’t everything, but Stidham has more raw talent. How quickly can he harness that talent as the starter?
2. The Supporting Cast is the Best in the Big 12
Stidham now has the keys to a high-powered offense and plenty of help in the form of the Big 12’s best supporting cast. Baylor’s offensive line was considered the best in the conference going into 2015, and so far, this group has lived up to the preseason hype. The Bears have allowed only six sacks and average 6.9 yards per carry. This unit also grades high in Football Outsiders’ offensive line metrics. Running back Shock Linwood leads the Big 12 with 974 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and averages a healthy 8.1 yards per carry. Additionally, the receiving corps is the best in college football, led by junior Corey Coleman (18 TDs, 20.5 yards per catch). There’s more than enough talent here to help insulate a new starter at quarterback from having to do it all in his first few starts.
3. History of Art Briles’ Quarterbacks at Baylor
Briles is one of the top offensive coaches in the nation. Since 2011, Baylor has not finished below second in the Big 12 in scoring offense. The Bears lead the nation with an average of 8.4 yards per play this season and have 21 plays of 40 yards or more. Strong quarterback play is at the heart of Baylor’s offensive fireworks under Briles, developing a reputation as a “plug-and-play” system under center. Will that hold true with Stidham at the controls? Here’s the strong track record of Baylor quarterbacks under Briles:
Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III
4. Time to Prepare
While 28 passes isn’t enough of a sample size, Stidham’s limited statistics are impressive. He’s completed 24 of 28 attempts for 331 yards and six touchdowns. Additionally, Stidham’s 11.8 yards-per-attempt average is slightly more than Russell’s (10.5). Again, limited sample size, but the numbers are noteworthy. While Baylor would like Stidham to have more experience, he does have a week to prepare for Kansas State (Nov. 5) and has a few extra days (Nov. 14) to get ready for Oklahoma. With extra time to prepare for his first two starts, that’s a huge advantage for Stidham and a good way for Baylor to get him acclimiated into the starting lineup before a road date at Oklahoma State on Nov. 21 – and of course the Nov. 27 trip to TCU.
5. Lack of Experience Worked for Ohio State Last Year
Every team, season and case study is different, but there’s an interesting trend among teams in the national championship or playoff and experience at quarterback. From 1998-2013, 12 first-year quarterbacks played for the national title. And last year, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones had just two starts under his belt prior to the national championship versus Oregon. Additionally, Alabama made the playoff with a first-year starter (Blake Sims). Trends and track records won’t necessarily hold up every season. However, with the skill talent Baylor has in place, along with a defense that is capable of making timely plays, creating havoc around the line of scrimmage and getting stops in the red zone, Stidham doesn’t have to be an All-American quarterback. With the talent at receiver, the Bears need Stidham to be a point guard and distribute the ball effectively, limit mistakes and produce a few big plays each game. That seems reasonable for a quarterback most recruiting sites considered one of the best in the 2015 signing class.