Outside of true freshman and Arlington Lamar product Shane Buechele attempting to win the Texas Longhorns’ starting job, there are few intriguing Big 12 quarterback battles raging this spring.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are set. Kenny Hill and Foster Sawyer are competing at TCU.
Who’s missing? Oh right, Baylor.
Now this is starting to get interesting, if just a teeny-weeny bit. Baylor released its post-spring depth chart Tuesday and it comes with a dash of suspense.
At the quarterback position, a definitive starter is not listed. It reads Seth Russell or Jarrett Stidham.
Close observers of the Baylor Bears say this is nothing to get worked up over. It’s simply stated as “OR” because senior-to-be Seth Russell continues to rehab from neck surgery that grounded his high-flying junior season in late October. Because of Russell’s continued recovery process (he has not been cleared for contact), followed by a pulled pectoral muscle this spring, Russell didn’t see much spring action.
Stidham, the former five-star recruit from Stephenville who took over for Russell and quickly gained rock-star status until his own injuries ran him down, has led the Bears’ offense.
Russell was 7-0 as Baylor’s starter last year. In his absence, the Bears lost three of their last five games. However, it’s nearly impossible to suggest that Baylor faltered under Stidham. The Bears’ schedule was back-loaded with their toughest games in November.
Russell put up world-beating numbers against SMU, Lamar, Rice, Texas Tech, Kansas and West Virginia, before fracturing a bone in his neck against Iowa State on Oct. 24.
Stidham made his debut at Kansas State, followed by games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. He got banged-up early against the Sooners, yet persevered and still nearly managed to get Baylor the win. He was forced out against the Cowboys with what later would be diagnosed as a broken bone in his ankle, and didn’t play against TCU, Texas or in the bowl game.
All in all, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound stallion-like Stidham appeared in 10 games, completing 75 of 109 passes for 1,265 yards. He had 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Russell, who bided his time behind Bryce Petty, completed 199 of 200 passes for 2,104 yards, 29 touchdowns and six interceptions.
But here’s the question regarding the post-spring depth chart’s “OR” at quarterback: If Russell is going to be the starter — and he is expected to be cleared for full participation by fall camp — why not just list him as such? Baylor can contend it did not do so simply because he isn’t healthy enough today to name him the outright starter for a season still five months away.
Or could they have?
Stidham said he wants to be considered for the Bears’ starting job. However, since Russell performed at a high level before his injury, and there is the old adage that a player can’t lose his starting job by injury, it would certainly seem that Russell would get every opportunity to begin his senior season as the starter.
However, there is also a coaching philosophy that if two players are deemed to be on equal footing, and one is, say, a senior and the other is, say, a sophomore, the sophomore is going to win the job and, theoretically, solidify the position for years to come.
Maybe the “OR” in Baylor’s post-spring depth chart is nothing at all. Or maybe it is.