To keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive for another week, the Baylor Bears must survive a perfect storm of upset-producing factors Thursday night in Manhattan, Kan.
The Bears (7-0, 4-0 Big 12), who opened at No. 6 in Tuesday’s initial round of CFP rankings, head into the matchup against Kansas State (3-4, 0-4) with a freshman quarterback slated to make his first career start in place of an injured, productive veteran.
Jarrett Stidham, who played last season for Stephenville High School, will take Baylor’s offensive reins on the road, in a sold-out stadium, against a motivated team led by a coaching icon. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who will be inducted in December into the College Football Hall of Fame, acknowledged he has spent the past 12 days studying videotapes of Stidham dating to his Stephenville days in search of fresh blitzes and defensive wrinkles that could slow the Bears’ point-per-minute offense heading into the national telecast (6:30 p.m., FS1).
“You certainly have to take that into serious consideration,” Snyder said about opportunities to confuse an inexperienced opposing quarterback. “But you’ve got to make sure it’s not just a roll of the dice, and you do what your players are capable of doing. You try to find the right things and use them at the right time.”
Whatever strategic tweaks Kansas State unveils will be run by players who are well-versed on recent pains inflicted by Baylor on the Wildcats’ program. In last year’s season-ending, winner-take-all battle for a share of the Big 12 title, Baylor prevailed 38-27. In 2012, an undefeated bunch of Wildcats rolled into Waco with an undefeated record, a No. 2 ranking and national title hopes. Baylor, a 4-5 team, pulled a 52-24 upset that lit the fuse for the Bears’ subsequent runs to Big 12 titles in 2013 and 2014.
You try to find the right things and use them at the right time.
K-State coach Bill Snyder on fresh defensive wrinkles to confuse a freshman QB
Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango, a fifth-year senior, remembers both of those triumphs, as well as a 35-25 victory in 2013, Baylor’s lone triumph in five trips to Bill Snyder Family Stadium as a Big 12 member. He also understands the difficulty of playing in a loud venue on national TV on Thursday night, with or without a freshman quarterback in the lineup.
“I don’t know about voodoo or magic. But everyone’s definitely a lot more excited on Thursday night. The atmosphere’s usually electric,” Drango said. “That’s a really hard place to play in general, so I’m fully expecting us not to be able to hear anything.”
Drango also expects Stidham, who has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns in spot duty this season, to keep the Bears’ playoff hopes intact regardless of the decibel levels in Manhattan. So does receiver Lynx Hawthorne, who considers Stidham, 19, unusually mature for his age.
“I’ve got full trust in Jarrett Stidham,” said Hawthorne, a fourth-year junior. “You’re blowing my mind saying he’s a teenager. You wouldn’t guess that. I personally look up to the guy and I guess I’m four years older. He’s a fun guy to be around and there’s nothing about the guy that says ‘teenager.’ If there’s someone capable of taking over the reins, it’s him.”
Stidham has not thrown an interception while making seven appearances in mop-up duty for former starter Seth Russell, who suffered a season-ending neck injury during Baylor’s 45-27 victory over Iowa State in the team’s last outing. Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledged there may be a cutback in designed quarterback runs Thursday with Stidham at the helm instead of Russell. But the rest of the playbook remains available, and Briles downplayed concerns about a potential spike in turnovers and missed assignments with a freshman quarterback in the lineup.
There’s nothing about the guy that says ‘teenager.’ If there’s someone capable of taking over the reins, it’s him.
Baylor WR Lynx Hawthorne on new QB Jarrett Stidham
“We hope neither one of those things come to the surface,” Briles said. “But we know it’s going to take our best effort of the season to get out of there with a victory.”
Briles said he has “tons of respect for coach Snyder and his staff” and is prepared for Baylor staffers to adjust on the fly to some fresh looks from the Wildcats’ defense. Although K-State has been pounded in consecutive losses to No. 15 Oklahoma (55-0) and Texas (23-9), the Wildcats took No. 8 TCU to the wire in a 52-45 loss on Oct. 10 in Manhattan.
85.7 Stidham’s completion percentage this season (24 of 28) in limited duty
Snyder said last week’s open date after the loss to Texas helped players regroup mentally in the wake of a four-game losing streak. Coaches, in turn, spent extra time preparing and implementing the Baylor game plan.
“The extra practice time has been very, very good. I think they’re making some headway,” Snyder said. “The significant thing about fighting through adversity is to not give in and be competitive. All those things are in place for our young guys.”
Translation: The perfect storm is brewing in Manhattan for a season-turning upset by the Wildcats. Baylor must survive it to extend the Bears’ playoff hopes for another week.
No. 6 Baylor 38, Kansas State 24 (6:30 p.m. Thursday, FS1): Bears and QB Jarrett Stidham survive the transition phase, keep undefeated record intact.
No. 8 TCU 41, No. 14 Oklahoma State 38 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4): Horned Frogs find a way to win another shootout in a high-stakes battle between undefeated teams.
Texas 35, Kansas 7 (7 p.m. Saturday, Longhorn Network): Longhorns face the perfect opponent while in rebound mode from lopsided loss to Iowa State.
No. 15 Oklahoma 45, Iowa State 17 (6 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU): Sooners continue their post-Cotton Bowl awakening by pounding the team that pitched last week’s shutout of the Longhorns.
West Virginia 42, Texas Tech 38 (11 a.m. Saturday, FS1): Long road trip combined with early kickoff equals another close loss for the Red Raiders.
Last week: 3-1