Given a different set of circumstances, the two starting quarterbacks in Saturday’s high-stakes game between No. 6 Baylor and No. 12 Oklahoma could have taken their practice snaps this week in Lubbock.
Instead, Baylor freshman Jarrett Stidham broke a commitment to Texas Tech to join the Bears’ 2015 recruiting class. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield played for the Red Raiders in 2013 before losing his starting job before the team’s bowl game. He transferred after the season.
The presence of another standout quarterback in Saturday’s Tech lineup, sophomore Patrick Mahomes, probably played a role in both decisions.
But the bottom line shows that Stidham and Mayfield believe experience gained while dealing with decisions to put Lubbock in the rearview mirror have steeled their will heading into Saturday’s showdown between the Bears (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) and Sooners (8-1, 5-1) at McLane Stadium (7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8).
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I think it’s definitely helped me coming into this situation now, with everything. Just how to handle it, not get too high or too low.
Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham, on negative recruiting feedback helping him handle life as a college starter
That is especially true for Stidham, who will be making the first Waco start of his college career after playing last season for Stephenville High School. Stidham said handling negative feedback he received last December after flipping his commitment has helped him handle the pressure of being a freshman starter for a team with hopes of winning a third consecutive Big 12 championship and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.
“I had threatening phone calls to my house. Threatening letters,” said Stidham, 19, reflecting on his recruiting experience. “Especially on Twitter, a lot of things were being said. … In any situation like that, you can’t let it affect you. I tried to stay completely away from it. I think it’s definitely helped me coming into this situation now, with everything. Just how to handle it, not get too high or too low. Just kind of take it.”
Stidham, who has compiled a pass efficiency rating of 229.02 in limited duty this season, has completed 47 of 61 passes (77 percent) in eight games. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes with no interceptions. In his lone start, he threw for 419 yards and three TDs and rushed for another score during last week’s 31-24 victory at Kansas State.
But the matchup against Oklahoma will mark his first appearance against a ranked opponent. Teammates remain optimistic that their freshman quarterback, who took part in spring drills, can handle the stress.
“He’s really confident,” said Baylor receiver Corey Coleman, who has grabbed three of his FBS-best 20 touchdown receptions from Stidham. “He acts like he’s played college football for two years already.”
But the only quarterback in Saturday’s mix with that much experience is Mayfield, a walk-on at Tech and Oklahoma before earning a scholarship with the Sooners.
Among players with enough attempts to qualify for national rankings (Stidham does not meet the NCAA minimum), Mayfield ranks second among FBS quarterbacks in pass efficiency (186.8 rating) and ninth in total offense (337.4 yards per game). A semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, he’s thrown for 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions and has at least one TD pass in all nine games.
Mayfield said a solid ground game, led by running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, has helped him thrive at OU. Because the Sooners have averaged 295.2 rushing yards in their past four games, Mayfield has seen more one-on-one coverage opportunities as a passer than he did at Tech.
“You love it,” Mayfield said. “As receivers and quarterbacks, we have to take that as disrespect. They shouldn’t be able to do that, and we have to take advantage of it.”
Stidham finds himself in position to capitalize on any deficiencies in the OU defense after moving into the lineup following a season-ending neck injury to former starter Seth Russell on Oct. 24. That opportunity surfaced because Stidham backed away from his commitment to Tech (5-5, 2-5) in December before enrolling at Baylor in January.
A native of Kentucky who moved to Stephenville in 2005, Stidham knew Baylor coach Art Briles won four state championships at his former high school before moving to the college ranks as a Texas Tech assistant coach in 2000. But the two did not cross paths until a Baylor summer camp before Stidham’s junior season in high school.
186.8 Pass efficiency rating for Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, which ranks second nationally among FBS players
“He came to camp and threw and we were like, ‘Man! This guy’s really good,’ ” Briles said. “We offered him then, along with a variety of other people. He’s got ‘it.’ You don’t have to have a coach’s eye to see it.”
Stidham warmed up to Baylor as his college destination after re-evaluating his options once the Yellow Jackets were eliminated in the quarterfinals of last year’s Class 4A Division I playoffs. What triggered the change?
“There’s some different things, but ultimately I just felt better at Baylor,” Stidham said. “I thought Baylor was going to put me in the best position to help me with my goals, and later life experiences. At the end of the day, I’m glad I’m a Baylor Bear.”
Now, he’s the quarterback in charge of Baylor’s playoff push. And he draws motivation from those who downgrade the Bears’ chances because there is a freshman at the helm instead of Russell, a fourth-year junior who posted a 7-0 mark as the team’s starter.
“It definitely puts a chip on my shoulder,” Stidham said. “I came to Baylor to play as soon as possible. This circumstance happened, so here I am starting. I definitely want to play with that chip on my shoulder. I want to play to the best of my ability. Even though I am a freshman, we’re going to keep firing on all cylinders.”
Oklahoma, likewise, expects to continue its four-game winning streak after a 24-17 loss to Texas on Oct. 10. The Sooners have won those four contests by an average margin of 58-13.
“The way we’ve been playing, you have to feel confident,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We’ve been playing together as a team. We’re in a good rhythm.”
Perhaps most important, OU’s quarterback with Texas Tech ties is on a roll. Then again, the same can be said about the quarterback at Baylor.
Baylor vs. Oklahoma
7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/8
Clearing up Big 12’s CFP path
With four league teams among the top 15 in the CFP rankings, playoff hopes remain for No. 6 Baylor (8-0), No. 8 Oklahoma State (9-0), No. 12 Oklahoma (8-1) and No. 15 TCU (8-1). Beyond winning their own games, here are some potential Saturday results that would boost playoff hopes for the Big 12 contenders:
1. Victories by Texas Tech (5-5) and West Virginia (4-4). Having two more league rivals with winning records would help all playoff hopefuls in next week’s CFP deliberations.
2. A victory by Oregon (6-3) over No. 7 Stanford (8-1).
3. A victory by No. 17 Mississippi State (7-2) over No. 2 Alabama (8-1).
4. A victory by Arizona (5-5) over No. 10 Utah (8-1).
5. A victory by Minnesota (4-5) over No. 5 Iowa (9-0).