From Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to record-setting Nick Florence to two-time Big 12 champion Bryce Petty and Seth Russell, Baylor quarterbacks have thrived in coach Art Briles’ big-play system.
Next up is freshman Jarrett Stidham. His turn as starter comes much sooner than expected, and with the toughest stretch of the season ahead for No. 2 Baylor (7-0).
“He’s a guy that we felt all along is in line to be really a productive player for us,” Briles said.
Only a year after leading Stephenville High to the Texas Class 4A playoffs, Stidham takes over for the injured Russell, with the Bears trying to win their third consecutive Big 12 title and reach the College Football Playoff that snubbed them last season.
Russell will have season-ending neck surgery to repair damage to his cervical vertebra. The junior quarterback and top-rated FBS passer saw a specialist Monday, two days after fracturing a bone in his neck late in a win over Iowa State.
“We certainly have tons of confidence in Jarrett. He’s beyond years in maturity-wise. He doesn’t seem like a freshman, act like a freshman or perform like a freshman,” Briles said. “He’s a guy that’s instinctively and athletically ready to play.”
His first start is Nov. 5 at Kansas State, after this week’s open date. The Bears then play 14th-ranked Oklahoma (6-1) at home before consecutive road games against the Big 12’s other undefeated teams, 12th-ranked Oklahoma State and fifth-ranked TCU.
Stidham has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions while playing in every game so far. He went through spring drills after graduating early from Stephenville - the school Briles led to four Texas state championships as coach from 1988-99.
“They have an incredible cast around him, and he’s as talented a thrower as you’ll be around,” said Texas Tech coach and former Big 12 quarterback Kliff Kingsbury. “Coach Briles is one of the best quarterback gurus probably in the history of college football.”
Baylor again has the nation’s top offense, with 686 total yards and 61 points a game. Russell threw for 2,104 yards with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions, along with six rushing scores.
The Bears also have Corey Coleman, the FBS leader with a school-record 18 TD catches, Big 12 rushing leader Shock Linwood and a big, experienced offensive line led by All-America tackle Spencer Drango.
Stidham’s most extensive action was playing the entire second half of Baylor’s 66-7 win at Kansas on Oct. 10, when he was 9-of-10 passing for 117 yards and two TDs.
First-year Kansas coach David Beaty, previously a Texas A&M assistant, said Stidham and Kyler Murray, who signed with the Aggies, had two of the best high school quarterback evaluations he has ever seen.
“Stidham, from a fundamental standpoint and literally quarterback mechanic standpoint, he’s as good as I’ve seen,” Beaty said. “Very efficient, love his motion, and the guy makes great decisions. You can tell he’s a very bright kid.”
Griffin was Baylor’s only Heisman winner as a junior in 2011, then bypassed an extra season in Waco and was the second overall pick in the NFL draft. Florence set a school record with 4,309 yards passing as a senior in 2012.
Petty was next after his long wait to start. He went 21-4, was an All-Big 12 pick and led the Bears to their first two Big 12 titles - all while Russell waited his turn.
Russell’s only start before this year was when Petty missed a game early last season with two small broken bones in his back. Russell threw for 438 yards and five touchdowns while playing only one half.
Now it’s Stidham’s turn running the system.
“We’re not putting a guy out there that’s not capable,” Briles said. “This guy’s good. He’s ready.”
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