What are your expectations for Russell's replacement, true freshman Jarrett Stidham?
Max Olson: In addition to the obvious benefits of playing with Shock Linwood, Corey Coleman, Jay Lee, KD Cannon and all those offensive weapons, I’d point to the offensive line as the biggest reason why I think Stidham will still thrive. That unit has only given up three sacks this season, and Seth Russell was pressured on only 15 percent of his dropbacks, a rate that ranks fifth-best among all Power 5 quarterbacks. They get the ball out quick. Stidham can be a game manager and still end up throwing for 300 yards a game just like Russell did.
Brandon Chatmon: I’m expecting the ups-and-downs you’d expect from a true freshman. The problem is Stidham -- with a four-game slate that features three of four on the road (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU) and a home test against Oklahoma -- doesn’t have much room for error. I’m not expecting him to lose any of those games on his own in the form of a multiple-interception performance, but I’m not expecting him to take over any of those games either. I think we will see flashes that will leave no doubt he’s a future star but also some mental mistakes that remind us that the was in high school at this time a year ago.
Trotter: Stidham will do just fine. The Bears are not going to a drop off a cliff with Stidham, who was one of the top QB recruits in the country this year. The question will be, can he shine in the big moment while also avoiding the catastrophic mistake? That will decide whether Baylor wins the Big 12 and makes the playoff. Trevone Boykin, Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph have already shined in big moments this season. Can Stidham as a true freshman? We don't yet know.
How will the Baylor offense adjust?
Olson: I don’t expect the run-pass balance to shift much. Even if Baylor runs Linwood a bit more than usual, it’s not like opponents can just put extra defenders in the box and stuff the run. The receivers can kill you if you take that risk. They’ll probably ease Stidham into games with more screens and high-percentage throws, and it’s easy to forget this: Stidham has only thrown to Coleman one time this season. He's been playing with the backups. Being surrounded by stardom now is going to make Stidham look good.
Chatmon: I don’t expect any changes in Baylor’s offense. Shock Linwood will still be one of the Big 12’s best -- and most productive -- runners while Corey Coleman will still catch plenty of passes. Big plays will remain commonplace in Waco. I’m sure Kendal Briles and the offensive coaching staff will have safety nets in place just in case Stidham hits a shaky patch, but I doubt they will be needed. I’m expecting the same explosive offense we’ve seen thus far in 2015.
Trotter: The biggest change will be the quarterback run game, or lack there of moving forward. Russell is 10th in the league in rushing, and the zone-read had become a big part of the Baylor offense this season, and yet another element opposing defenses had to account for. Stidham is athletic, but the Bears can't afford for him to get injured as well -- meaning offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will be reticent to run him and put him in situations where he might get hurt.
Is Baylor still the favorite in the Big 12?
Olson: To me, the absence of Russell closes the gap between Baylor and TCU. The Bears are going to blow out Kansas State, but I think they’re going to endure some close calls the rest of the way. If you’d asked me a week ago I definitely would’ve picked Baylor to win on Black Friday. It’s too close to call now. I’m sticking with the Bears to win the Big 12 for now, but TCU and Oklahoma are much more legitimate threats than they were previously.
Chatmon: Baylor was probably my slight favorite before Russell’s injury, but the injury combines with other factors to tip the scale in TCU’s favor. To be honest, I’m more concerned about defensive tackle Andrew Billings and any lingering concerns about his ankle than Stidham’s play. Secondly, Trevone Boykin is playing even better as a senior than he did a year ago. Lastly, TCU hosts Baylor on Black Friday, and I’m sure Amon G. Carter will be rocking for that matchup. Those three factors combine with Russell’s injury to give the Horned Frogs the nod.
Trotter: I have Baylor and TCU back as co-favorites, but I'm not far away from elevating Oklahoma and Oklahoma State into their tier, as well. Let's see what the Cowboys do this weekend at Texas Tech -- this is the first prolific offense they've had to face this season. But if Oklahoma State wins in Lubbock, it will have a massive scheduling advantage the rest of the way. The Sooners have been a different team since the Texas loss -- can they can keep it going? Basically we're back to where we started in August, with TCU and Baylor standing as the co-favorites, with OU and Oklahoma State stalking immediately behind them.