Seth Russell is the man who will step in for the departed Bryce Petty for a Baylor team that has national title hopes.
Russell makes his second career start for the fourth-ranked Bears on Friday night in what appears to be a major mismatch on the road against rebuilding SMU.
Petty guided a Baylor offense that led the nation with averages of 48.2 points and 581.5 yards last year, throwing for 3,855 yards and 29 scores for a team that went 11-2 and tied for the Big 12 title with TCU. The Bears earned a second straight conference crown, though they did not advance to the College Football Playoff.
Those clubs are again considered the best in the Big 12 with Heisman Trophy favorite Trevone Boykin back at quarterback for the second-ranked Horned Frogs.
Petty is now with the New York Jets. Russell's only start came last Sept. 6 when he filled in for Petty and threw for 438 yards and five touchdowns in only one half of a 70-6 rout of Northwestern State. That performance and a strong offseason have the Bears believing there won't be a huge drop-off at quarterback.
"Seth, he is an amazing guy and a great role model on and off the field. He is a great athlete and he can throw the ball as well as anyone in the nation," receiver Corey Coleman said. "We have 100 percent trust that he will get the job done."
Coleman is back after ranking seventh in the FBS with 111.9 receiving yards per game and 11 scores. So is KD Cannon, who had 1,030 yards receiving and eight TD catches, and running back Shock Linwood, who was second in the conference with 1,252 rushing yards.
"There's been a lot of hype, a lot of anticipation for our team this season and rightfully so," coach Art Briles said.
Briles insisted this week that the team isn't distracted by the school president's call for an independent investigation into the handling of a sexual assault complaint against former transfer Sam Ukwuachu. The incident has drawn unwanted national attention to the program.
"Honestly, I haven't felt anything," Briles said when asked about outside distractions. "The thing about youth that keeps me going, and keeps other people going that have the opportunity to be around youth, is that they're resilient, first and foremost, forgiving, non-judgmental."
The coach's focus has been on bouncing back from last season's 42-41 defeat to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl in which the Bears led by 20 going into the fourth quarter. It's not lost on Baylor that its next game is back in the Dallas area.
"We're still in pain from the Cotton Bowl," Briles said. "We've lived for seven months with a really, really bad taste in our mouths."
Besides the skill position players surrounding Russell, Baylor boasts a defense with nine returning starters. The best of that group may be defensive end Shawn Oakman, who had 11 sacks last season and 32 tackles for loss the past two years.
Oakman, however, will not play after he and starting safety Orion Stewart were suspended for violating unspecified team rules. A school spokesman said Oakman and Stewart would both be back for the Bears' home opener Sept. 12 against Lamar.
Baylor has captured 11 straight meetings with SMU, including a 45-0 rout in last year's opener. Russell was 13 for 23 for 124 yards and a score and Linwood ran for 89 yards and a TD.
That Mustangs team surrendered 41.3 points per game for the nation's second-worst mark and finished 1-11 in a tumultuous season in which coach June Jones resigned after two games. The school hired former Texas high school coach Chad Morris in December for his first college head coaching job.
Morris spent the last four years as Clemson's offensive coordinator, installing a spread offense he'll use at SMU.
"We are a hurry-up, no-huddle football program," he said. "We don't wait on anything. We go get it."
SMU fans are craving a high-powered offense after last year's team averaged 11.1 points for the nation's worst mark and produced six TD passes to tie for the second-worst total in the FBS. Former Texas A&M recruit Matt Davis is expected to start at quarterback.
Briles said he doesn't know what to expect from SMU.
"We know it's going to be a lively atmosphere, I'm expecting a full house," Briles said. "I think the fans will be very excited to see coach Morris and what he's going to bring to the table."