Over the next two weeks, we'll be featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2015 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.
Today's player on the spot: Baylor quarterback Seth Russell
The Bears have a lot of terrific pieces in place to make another run at a College Football Playoff spot and Big 12 title. Receiver K.D. Cannon could be ready to explode, the Bears' running-back group is full of playmakers and Kyle Fuller returns at center to give the offensive line an experienced anchor to build around. Thus, the return of a productive quarterback could be the difference between another ring and another season that ends with Baylor on the outside looking in at the national title hunt.
Russell’s impact during his first season as a starter cannot be denied. The Bears quarterback was one of the Big 12 favorites for offensive player of the year before a season-ending neck injury changed the trajectory of Baylor’s season while taking away Russell’s breakout junior year. He finished with a 87.8 total QBR, 2,104 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and six interceptions in seven games.
"When you're sitting there and can't do anything except eat, sleep and maybe use the restroom, you just start thinking," Russell said. "But it was amazing to see how Corey (Coleman) ended the season, and I felt like I could have been a bigger part of that. The team had a great run, but I feel like I let the team down.”
Russell brings the best dual threat behind center at Baylor since Robert Griffin III. He has terrific speed yet displays the passing skills to make defenses pay with his arm. Not many quarterbacks in the conference can match his skill set. If he can return to his pre-injury level, or even better, the Bears should remain one of the favorites to win the conference title.
Yet, as devastating as Russell’s injury was to Baylor’s season, Jarrett Stidham stepped in and looked like a future star before the injury bug took away his true freshman season. Thus, Russell isn’t the lone quality option at quarterback in Waco, Texas.
"He did a great job last year up until the injuries," coach Art Briles said of Russell. "I thought Stidham was unbelievable. I think that as bad as it was last year, it's going to be that good this year. We have two guys that are really good and really experienced."
Even through Russell opened the spring as the starter, there is no guarantee he remains atop the depth chart with the talented Stidham returning to full health to battle for the job. Nonetheless, a Russell return to his 2015 performance could end up being a season-defining development for Baylor.