Clary: Seth Russell's Injury Will Not Slow Down Baylor Offense
Photo Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

Baylor currently has the nation's most explosive offense, and it's not even close. The Bears lead the NCAA in both yards (686) and points (61) per game, each of which are on top of the leaderboard by wide margins.

But after the school announced Monday morning that starting quarterback Seth Russell would need to have season-ending neck surgery, it is only normal to think that the offense will take a step back. Throw in the fact that the backup is a true freshman who has played only sparingly in blowouts, and the natural thought is that the number two team in the nation is in trouble.

Russell suffered a serious injury against Iowa State and will miss the rest of the season. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Not so fast.

Yes, for most teams, that would be the case. But Baylor is a totally different animal.

Art Briles' teams of the past haven't cared who is behind center, they have thrived regardless. After Robert Griffin III's Heisman campaign in 2011, Nick Florence came in the very next year and compiled more yards than Griffin did. Much of the same for Bryce Petty, who broke Florence's production records and led the Bears to the Fiesta Bowl in his junior year and then the Cotton Bowl in his senior season.

Russell was well on his way to following in his predecessor's footsteps, but now he will pass the baton on to 19-year-old Jarrett Stidham, a former five-star recruit from Stephenville.

One of the most highly-regarded quarterback recruits in the country after his sensational high school career, Stidham switched from Texas Tech to Baylor a few weeks before Signing Day.

It looks like an outstanding decision now, as the former Elite 11 participant and Under Armour All-American will try to engineer college football's best offense while keeping Baylor undefeated and in the hunt for a spot in the second College Football Playoff.

The coaching staff is definitely not showing any signs of worry.

“We have confidence in Jarrett,” Briles told Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com. “He shows maturity beyond his years. He doesn’t act like a freshman or perform like a freshman. He’s a guy that instinctively, athletically is ready to play."

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

Opposing teams have been equally impressed with the new Baylor starting signal-caller.

“From a fundamentals standpoint, he’s as good as I’ve seen,” Kansas head coach David Beaty said, per Chatmon. “You hate to see that happen to Seth but Baylor is in really good hands because they’ve recruited well. This kid can really play.”

The Bears are going to need Stidham to be ready to play, because while they are 7-0, they are just getting into the meat of their schedule. Their back-heavy slate leaves them with games against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas.

Now, their bye week this week does come at an incredibly auspicious time, as Stidham will have a full two weeks to get comfortable with the idea of being the full-fledged starter.

But then they play a gritty Kansas State team, No. 14 Oklahoma at home, undefeated Oklahoma State on the road, and travel to undefeated TCU in what has the potential be the equivalent of the Big 12 championship game.

A matchup against an improving Texas squad looms as the last game of the season.

And while it would be nice to still have Russell, there are no major red flags that stand out about Stidham that should concern Baylor Nation.

He might not have as much experience as Russell, who himself is only a junior, but he has been impressive in all of his outings so far in 2015.

Stidham has played in all seven of the Bears games, has thrown at least one touchdown in all but two of those, sports a terrific 85.7 completion percentage and has yet to throw an interception.

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

In Stidham's first college pass attempt, he effortlessly tossed a 42-yard touchdown to Chris Platt.

Stidham, who was the top dual-threat quarterback recruit last year according to 247Sports, should have no trouble utilizing the plethora of weapons that he has at his disposal.

Running back Shock Linwood has been tremendously consistent on the ground - he leads the Big 12 in rushing and averages a whopping 8.1 yard per carry - but it's the ridiculously talented receiving corps that will make Stidham's job easier.

Corey Coleman might be the best receiver in the country - West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen called him the best player in the nation - as his 18 touchdown catches are six more than anyone else and it only took him six games to set the school record in that category.

Coleman has a chance to break the NCAA record for TD receptions in a season, set by Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards in 1998, when he snatched 27 of them. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Jay Lee and KD Cannon are both big, explosive wideouts as well. Lee's 23 yards per reception lead the team and are fourth in the nation, and Cannon might be the fastest of them all.

Lynx Hawthorne is a speedy slot receiver and Chris Platt was a high school track star who has developed into a solid pass catcher.

When it's all said and done, Stidham can rely on a consistent running attack as well as a group of receivers that is unquestionably the best in the country. If he can overcome the early jitters of playing against Big 12 opponents, he will be fine.

He will have to perform against some of the best teams that the conference has to offer, but he will be ready.

Briles said at the beginning of the season that this year's team is the best one he has had in his eight years at the helm of the program, and the loss of the starting quarterback does not change that.

Because when you're taking over an offense that racks up nearly 700 yards and over 60 points every game, the quarterback is immediately relieved of a good chunk of pressure.

And when the backup quarterback is as talented as Stidham, the sky is still the limit.

Yours truly ranks the Bears as the best team in the country, and Stidham has what it takes to keep them there.

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