November 09, 2015

WACO, Texas (AP) Jarrett Stidham was getting ready to lead Stephenville into the Texas Class 4A high school playoffs at this time a year ago, when he was still verbally committed to another Big 12 team.

Now the quarterback thrust into a starting role for No. 4 Baylor because of Seth Russell's season-ending neck surgery is prepping for his first home start. The Bears (8-0, 5-0 Big 12, No. 6 CFP) play 12th-ranked Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1, No. 15 CFP) on Saturday night after winning at Kansas State in Stidham's first start.

''We went in unscathed and remain unscathed,'' coach Art Briles said Monday, refusing to refer to the quarterback who has been on campus since January as a freshman.

''You really can't even tell. He's really confident,'' said Corey Coleman, the FBS leader with 20 touchdowns receiving and 147 yards per game. ''He acts like he's played college football for two years already.''

Stidham had appeared in every game for the two-time defending Big 12 champion Bears before top-rated FBS passer Russell fractured a bone in his neck in their last home game Oct. 24.

But Stidham had played late in mostly lopsided games until starting at Kansas State last Thursday. He threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns without an interception while also running for another score in a 31-24 victory.

''Last week with it being my first start in the hostile crowd in Manhattan, I think it will help my confidence being on a road game like that,'' Stidham said. ''In that kind of environment and coming home, it will be fun for sure.''

After graduating early from Stephenville, the school Briles led to four Texas state championships as coach from 1988-99, Stidham was an early enrollee at Baylor and went through spring practice.

Briles first heard about Stidham from one of his former Stephenville players, who would text the coach touting the talents of a then-middle school quarterback.

''And I'm thinking, `Oh, OK, thanks,''' said Briles, who became sincerely appreciative when Stidham attended a Baylor camp after his sophomore season.

''He's pretty outstanding,'' Briles said. ''And his physical talents are not quite the separating points, as his mental awareness and instinctive awareness that he brings.''

Stidham was verbally committed to Texas Tech, but changed his mind in December, when he made a last unofficial visit to Baylor before choosing the Bears over Oregon.

''There's a lot of things that played into it. Overall, Baylor at the end of the day is where I felt I belonged,'' Stidham said Monday, adding that the Stephenville connection also was a good vibe.

Even though he is not even a full year removed from his final high school game, Stidham said he doesn't feel like a freshman. Especially since he had already been on campus for six months when other new freshmen started to arrive in the summer.

That certainly gave him a head start on learning Briles' offense for which there isn't even an actual playbook. He went from wondering what everything was when he first started watching film to go through spring and then knowing the scheme so well when fall camp started that he became Russell's backup.

And now he is the starter heading into a season-defining stretch - Oklahoma and then at fifth-ranked Oklahoma State and 13th-ranked TCU in consecutive games. There are plenty of national skeptics wondering if he can lead the Bears to another Big 12 title and into the playoffs after being snubbed last year.

''It definitely puts a chip on my shoulder. I came to Baylor to play as soon as possible. This circumstance happened, here I am starting and everything, and I definitely want to play with that chip on my shoulder,'' Stidham said. ''As I was telling the guys last week, it doesn't matter, we're going to keep firing on all cylinders.''

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