The Daily Illini

Baylor, 2015’s version of Ohio State?

By Dan Escalona

For the second year in a row, a sudden and devastating injury to a quarterback may have changed the entire face of the road to the College Football Playoff.

In replicating an eerily similar storyline to that of a season ago, the Baylor Bears must now contend without starting quarterback Seth Russell — like Ohio State last season.

Russell was lost for the season after sustaining an injury to his clavicle on a routine play near the end of Baylor’s win over Iowa State. Fortunately for Russell’s sake, the injury is not expected to be career-threatening.

Baylor, a presumptive playoff team had the season concluded today, now faces a 90-degree precipice in the climb toward college football’s summit.

Stop me for a second if this story sounds familiar?

While the parallels to the 2014 Buckeyes have inevitably kicked into gear, the two plot lines nonetheless diverge.

Given that Ohio State lost not one but two starting quarterbacks — and was forced to start its third string quarterback for the season’s three most important games — made that story oh so much more tailor-made for a “30 for 30” in the next five years or so.

At least Ohio State did not have to start its third string quarterback for the final five games of the season plus the conference championship and the two playoff games. Had this been the case, the Buckeyes’ nearly improbable national championship run may have never materialized.

In some ways, though, Baylor’s road to the CFP is likely much more daunting than for the Buckeyes last season.

Russell’s injury could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Bears, with five games left to play in the regular season. Baylor’s next three games are undoubtedly its most challenging stretch of the season with matchups against three ranked Big 12 opponents — Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU.

To make matters worse, Russell had been putting up Heisman-like numbers thus far as a starter. He has thrown for 29 touchdown passes (first in the nation among quarterbacks) and compiled a quarterback rating of 188.4.

His performance as arguably the best quarterback in college football was a major cog in propelling Baylor to lead the entire FBS in both yards per game and points per game.

Now who exactly is the Cardale Jones character in this story?

That would be true freshmen Jarrett Stidham.

Like Jones, Stidham is a supremely talented quarterback just as capable to keep the Baylor offense revving in high gear.

This is a freshman quarterback that entered Waco as a 5-star recruit and the second rated quarterback prospect in the class of 2019, according to ESPN.com.

It also is not as if he is being thrown into the fire as a completely inexperienced freshman.

Stidham has appeared in all seven of Baylor’s games this season, though mostly in the mop-up duty. Small sample size notwithstanding, he has accounted for an 85 percent completion percentage with six touchdown passes and no interceptions.

If any freshman has the ability to immediately thrive in the Bears’ pass-heavy offensive attack, it is this guy.

As with the Buckeyes a season ago, Baylor can go in either one of two directions; it can unite and emerge undefeated from a tough Big 12 or shrivel up and miss out on the CFP or a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Yet again, the college football landscape this season is inexorably shaped by injury, forcing actors into strange, uncomfortable roles.

The specter of unfortunate physical injuries — the cold reality of college football — has exposed itself, and Baylor will either be its conqueror or its victim.

Can the familiar chapter previously written by Ohio State be rewritten?

As always, stay tuned.

Dan is a senior in Media.?

[email protected]?

@danescalona77

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