Less than 100 days until the 2016 NCAA Football season! We continue our Heisman Trophy candidate profiles with a look at Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, who is +2500.
What Could Have Been
I'm not particularly a fan of the Baylor football program, especially in the wake of what has transpired of late (more on that below), but the Bears are really fun to watch. And I think they were good enough to win last season's national championship had Russell stayed healthy.
Entering an Oct. 24, 2015, home game against Iowa State, Baylor was 6-0 and hadn't scored less than 45 points in a game. The Bears were up to No. 2 in the nation and Russell was putting up video game numbers. He was among the Heisman betting favorites at sportsbooks. However, against the Cyclones, Russell suffered damage to the cervical vertebra in his neck. It would require season-ending surgery just days after the game.
A true shame because Russell had thrown for 2,104 yards in the seven games, including an FBS-leading 29 touchdowns and rushing for six more TDs. His 87.8 adjusted QBR was the best in the Big 12 and No. 3 nationally. Baylor would see two more quarterbacks get hurt and lose three of its final four regular-season games. The Bears closed the season at 10-3 with a win over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Russell is now healthy and participated in spring football activities. but the Bears have to replace four starters on the offensive line. In addition, 2015 Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman and Jay Lee, who combined for 112 receptions for 2,121 yards and 28 touchdowns last year, are gone. KD Cannon, who had 50 receptions for 868 yards and six touchdowns, is the lone returnee at receiver with more than 11 receptions and 155 yards from last season.
Briles Era Comes To Abrupt End
Baylor has been in the news for all the wrong reasons of late, as an independent investigation by a Philadelphia law firm led to a truly shocking report on how Baylor basically put football above the safety of women on campus. The football program had seen several players charged with or accused of sexual assault over the past few years. And the program basically looked the other way and encouraged the local police to do the same.
No one, and I mean no one, thought Art Briles, the most successful coach by far in Baylor history and one of the highest-paid in the country, was in trouble. But he was fired last week in the wake of that report. Briles himself was stunned. The school also removed Kenneth Starr from his role as president and the athletic director eventually stepped down.
Briles had a 65-37 record in eight seasons, transforming one of the worst FBS programs in the country -- Baylor had 12 straight losing seasons before he was hired in 2008 -- into a powerhouse. The Bears won at least 10 games each of the past three seasons, their first Big 12 titles, and just missed out on the College Football Playoff following the 2014 season.
The dismissal of Briles simply has to affect Russell because Briles was the architect and play-caller of that ultra-fast revolutionary offense that once again led the nation in scoring and yardage in 2015. While it appears as of now the rest of the staff will stay put, Briles has been replaced by defensive-minded Jim Grobe, the former Wake Forest coach, for the 2016 season.
Grobe was hired more because he has a sterling reputation than for his football acumen. I can see Grobe being more conservative and relying on running backs Shock Linwood (1,329 yards rushing 10 TDs last year) and Johnny Jefferson (1,000 yards, 8 TDs).
To me, Baylor losing Briles is similar to when Urban Meyer left Florida after the 2010 campaign. The Gators of course won two national titles under Meyer but immediately struggled under his replacement, Will Muschamp, who was fired in the 2014 season.
Thanks to an incredibly easy non-conference schedule, Baylor should still be 6-0 when it visits Texas on Oct. 29. Perhaps the Bears can still win that, but I don't see them now going to Oklahoma on Nov. 12 and winning there. Baylor jumped from +2500 to +3500 as college football picks to win the national title. That's not happening now and Russell probably won't have a great shot at the Heisman without his innovative head coach.