The national title hopes for the Baylor football program shifted Wednesday to the shoulders of freshman Jarrett Stidham, a Stephenville product who took part in his first practice as the team’s starting quarterback.
Teammates and coach Art Briles praised Stidham’s initial efforts with the first-team offense and stressed that the second-ranked Bears (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) have not lowered their playoff aspirations despite the loss of quarterback Seth Russell, the FBS leader in passing efficiency (189.7 rating) and touchdown passes (29) who sustained a season-ending neck injury in last week’s 45-27 win over Iowa State.
“For the people out there who think we’re down and out, I really do think they’ve got another think coming,” receiver Lynx Hawthorne said before Wednesday’s practice. “Because Jarrett, he’s the real deal. I really do think he’s about to do something that nobody’s expecting. I’ve got full trust in Jarrett Stidham.”
He’ll definitely be just as good as Seth, if not better.
Baylor center Kyle Fuller, on freshman QB Jarrett Stidham
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So does Briles, who has seen Stidham complete 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns, without an interception, in limited duty this season. But all of that has come in mop-up duty. That will change Nov. 5 at Kansas State (3-4, 0-4), when Stidhman makes his first career start.
Briles said his prized freshman will be ready because he enrolled in January, took part in spring drills and has played in every game this season. Asked if he still considers Stidham a freshman, Briles said: “Not at all. Matter of fact, you won’t hear that word come out of my mouth. When he steps on the field (at K-State), he’ll have been around here for 11 months. So it’s not like he just showed up.”
255.7 Stidham’s passing efficiency rating this season, which would lead the nation if he met the minimum number of attempts for consideration.
But it will be a new experience for Stidham, 19, when he takes the field for the first time as a starter knowing he will have significant control over the Bears’ fortunes for four quarters. Baylor center Kyle Fuller expressed confidence that Stidham (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) will shine in that setting.
“He’ll definitely be just as good as Seth, if not better,” Fuller said. “He hasn’t acted or played like a freshman in any way. Not at all.”
Stidham was not made available for interviews Wednesday. Although he does not meet the minimum number of attempts to be listed in NCAA statistical rankings, Stidham will enter the K-State game with a higher passing efficiency rating (255.7) than Russell (189.7) through seven games.
That is enough to encourage Baylor receiver Corey Coleman, who leads the nation in touchdown receptions (18). The first 17 came from Russell, the last from Stidham in the fourth quarter of the Iowa State game.
“We still have our goals and our goals remain the same,” Coleman said. “[Stidham] is going to lead the way, and he’s got great guys around him. We have to make sure he’s focused and he stays poised. I told him, ‘Not everything is going to be perfect. You’ve just got to bounce back and be at your best when we need you.’”