Baylor freshman center of Big 12, playoff race

Jarrett Stidham, who has thrown 28 passes in his college career, will face road games to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU. Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

WACO, Texas -- Anyone who knows Jarrett Stidham says he'll remain calm and composed. The same cannot be said of his mother.

Somewhere along I-35 between Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, Rochelle Stidham took a moment Wednesday afternoon to ponder her son's big break. After driving to Manhattan, Kansas, in a van with her mother and sister, she says she's hanging in there.

"I'm very nervous. I'm not going to lie to ya," she said. "I'm a mother and I love my kid and I'm very nervous for him. It's a lot of pressure for a young man."

How's this for pressure: A true freshman quarterback is being asked to lead No. 6 Baylor to another Big 12 title and its first College Football Playoff bid. To go all the way, Stidham would likely have to face five top-25 opponents in his first seven starts. It begins Thursday night at Kansas State, in a road game the college football world will be closely watching and scrutinizing.

The 19-year-old from Stephenville, Texas, will try to do what no true freshman has done since Jamelle Holieway led Oklahoma to a national title in 1985. Holieway took over when some guy named Troy Aikman went down with an injury. Stidham must follow Seth Russell, arguably the most efficient passer in college football prior to his season-ending neck surgery.

"It's really not something there's a lot of apprehension about," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "The guy's good. He's a good football player and very intelligent, very instinctive."

Stidham steps onto this big stage with 120 career snaps. So he's been on the field for a little more than 20 percent of the Bears' season. After thriving with the backups in the second half of blowouts, Stidham now gets to play with Corey Coleman, Shock Linwood, KD Cannon and the rest of the big kids.

And they're excited to see what he's got. Baylor receiver Lynx Hawthorne compares the beauty of a Stidham throw to "a gift from God." But even his dad has asked what he really thinks of Baylor's new starter.

"I've never seen anything like this guy, honestly," Hawthorne said. "If it had been a freshman like me my freshman year, yeah, I'd be very worried for the entire university. But this isn't your everyday freshman."

Almost 300 days have passed since Stidham arrived on Baylor's campus. Bryce Petty waited four years to become the starter. Russell waited three. Both had to redshirt. Stidham earned a more expedited development plan.

"You've got to be patient with everything," Stidham told reporters in August. "Obviously I came here to get on the field as soon as possible, but you've got to be patient."

When Stidham was named the starter last Monday, he phoned home to share some conflicted feelings with his mother. He hates that it happened like this, she said, but he's no less excited for the challenge.

"I can't explain why Jarrett doesn't get too rattled about things," Rochelle Stidham said. "He's always been like that. He never gets rattled up over a ballgame."

Having 12 days to prepare for his first start helps, and Briles has preached throughout the transition that superstardom is not required. Stidham gets to lean on the nation's No. 2 receiver, No. 7 rusher and perhaps the No. 1 offensive line. The supporting cast makes this a fairly cushy job, even for a rookie.

Why isn't Briles worried? He thinks back to the first impression, when Stidham was a lanky high school sophomore at a Baylor summer camp in 2013. He showed no fear and threw as well as any kid Briles had ever seen.

"It was just instinct. This guy's different," Briles said. "He hasn't done anything to disprove that one bit."

Another coach who can vouch for his potential: Kliff Kingsbury.

Stidham had been committed to Texas Tech for nine months before abruptly backing out and signing with Baylor. Kingsbury got to see his former commit only briefly during Baylor's 63-35 win over Tech (Stidham appeared with less than four minutes left).

"Watching him from afar, it's just the way he's carried himself, the way he gets rid of the football and how accurate he's been," Kingsbury said. "He has such a great supporting cast -- great O-line, great receivers, great backs, Coach Briles and Kendal [Briles] are tremendous quarterback coaches -- and I think he's going to do extremely well. I really do."

But Kingsbury does offer one disclaimer with that praise: The guy Stidham is being asked to succeed set a mighty-high standard.

"I think Seth was playing at as high a level as I've ever seen in college football. Truly," Kingsbury said. "I've never seen a college quarterback play better than he was playing when you talk about running and throwing."

And now the understudy steps in just in time for the Big 12 title push. Mom asked Wednesday morning how he'd been sleeping. Fine, he said. She asked if he was nervous. He insisted no.

"OK," she replied. "Well, you're doing better than me!"

Rochelle Stidham worries that this is too much, too soon. Or maybe Jarrett really isn't ready. On the eve of the biggest game of his life, he sure sounded like it.

"He's very calm and knows what he's got to do," she said. "He told me he's just ready to get a 'W.'"