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Predicting Week Nine

Baylor may have a bye week, but they will be one of the most talked about teams this weekend

Another weekend is in the books and, while there weren’t any major upsets on the field (for Texas schools – looking at you Florida State) the college football landscape has been undeniably changed. Of course, I’m talking about the season ending injury to Baylor quarterback Seth Russell. If you haven’t heard (I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t have), Russell broke a bone in his neck during the Bears victory over Iowa State and after a diagnosis from a specialist earlier this week, he has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. A scary injury, we wish the best for Seth moving forward and a speedy recovery.

Many people have discussed the injury at length and what the cause was. Should the defense be blamed for letting Iowa State work their way back into the game? The offense for playing a pedestrian game (by Baylor standards) and forcing the defense to play longer? Others have pointed fingers at the coaching staff for leaving Russell in as long as they did. Whether it was one of those reasons, the poor weather or, as is most likely, this was just a freak injury that occurs during a contact sport, we’re not here to place blame.

What we will do, is look ahead and try to decipher what this means for the Bears moving forward. Replacing Russell will be true freshman Jarrett Stidham. A consensus four-star prospect  (many had him rated as a five-star), Stidham will be the most coveted quarterback prospect to ever play for Art Briles. Yes, that includes Robert Griffin. Remember, in high school and even early college, most considered Griffin an outstanding track athlete who could play football – he was not primarily a football player. Stidham on the other hand is football through-and-through. Ranked in the top 100 players in the nation (Griffin wasn’t even ranked nationally) and among the top 15 players in the state of Texas (Griffin was top 50), Stidham held offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech just to name a few. Put more simply, this kid could have gone to any school in the country – a far cry from the three-star developmental projects Briles has worked with in the past.

That being said, anyone who watches football knows a Baylor quarterback has to have experience. The reason the Baylor offense functions so well is that it is un-defendable. That’s not hyperbole – literally, the offense can’t be stopped when it operates as it should. This is due to the fact that the WRs run option routes that change based on what the defense is doing. If a DB is press coverage, the Bear WR will do one thing while if the DB sags off in zone, the WR will run a completely different route. The beauty of this is no matter what the defense does its wrong. The complication? WRs and QBs absolutely, must be on the same page. Otherwise balls will fly for incompletions, or worse, turnovers.

The easiest way to make sure the QB and WR are on the same page is to let them practice. After hundreds of reps, the two should ultimately think the same (or, at the very least, similar). This will be Stidham’s biggest hurdle. Despite enrolling early and beating out older players for the backup spot, he will still be the most inexperienced signal-caller the Bears have had in years. The good news? Stidham has already shown brilliance beyond his years. On his passing touchdown in relief of Russell in the Iowa State game, Stidham demonstrated just that (skip to the 2:45 mark). With no open reads, Stidham took off, keeping his eyes downfield, drew two defenders off a receiver and dropped the pass off for six. Not a typical play for an upperclassman quarterback, much less a 19-year old.

What should be more worrisome to Baylor was their total offensive output on a day when the Bear defense generated four turnovers. After rolling to a 35-7 halftime lead, Baylor would ultimately be outscored in the second half 20-10. Fortunately, the Bears won the game and every team will play at least one bad game a season, no matter how good they are. Just ask Alabama (loss to Ole Miss at home), Oklahoma (loss to Texas) and Florida State (loss to Georgia Tech). Oh, and in case we’ve forgotten, Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in their worst game last season before ultimately claiming the National Title.

Summary – if I was a Baylor fan, I wouldn’t be worried. There will be growing pains and, in a tight game, Stidham’s youth might betray him, but this Bear team is still strong and will likely be favored in their remaining games.

With all of that said, my record last week was 8-1 while Texas FBS programs went 6-4 in games against teams from outside the state. As always, make your own picks to beat my record and win a free Texas Sports Hall of Fame package! You can make picks by Tweeting at us, messaging us on Facebook or emailing me directly at ryan.sprayberry@tshof.org.

Thursday, October 29

West Virginia (+14) @ #5 TCU, 6:30 PM, Fox Sports 1

Sitting in a three-way tie for the Big 12 lead with Baylor and Oklahoma State at 7-0 (4-0 conference) TCU is coming off a bye-week. The Horned Frogs could definitely use the rest and extra time to develop players who have filled in due to injury, however, it still looks as though the Horned Frogs will not be in the conference hunt at the season’s end. While a November 27 matchup between undefeated Baylor and TCU would be phenomenal, must-watch TV, especially considering the two programs’ bad blood, it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards this year. It has been thoroughly documented that TCU is lucky to be undefeated at this point and with road tests against OU and OSU looming before the Baylor game; it will take more than luck for the Horned Frogs to face the Bears without a loss. However, Boykin and company take care of business this weekend and keep West Virginia winless in conference play – TCU wins 52-35.

Texas State (+21) @ Georgia Southern, 6:30 PM, ESPNU

After picking up their second win of the season last weekend, Texas State has a short week to prepare for a strong Georgia Southern team. The Bobcat defense is still allowing about 100 yards more per game than the Bobcat offense is generating. The Georgia Southern offense is no joke. The Bobcat defense tries, but can’t get it done this week – Georgia Southern wins 45-31.

Friday, October 30

Louisiana Tech (-12.5) @ Rice, 7:00 PM, Fox Sports 1

Rice is quietly riding a two game win streak as the Owls only losses this year have come to Baylor, Texas and a strong Western Kentucky team. However, Louisiana Tech has one of the best non-talked about teams in the country. Led by Florida-transfer Jeff Driskel, the Bulldogs are a mere nine points from being a one-loss team. Fortunately for Rice, this game will be in Houston. Unfortunately for Rice, they will have to play their best game of the year to win – Louisiana Tech wins 38-28.

Saturday, October 31

South Carolina (+16) @ Texas A&M, 11:00 AM, SEC Network

Déjà vu has set in. The Aggies started the season 5-0 but after two losses, Texas A&M is reeling. A total loss of offensive identity has left the team on the verge of collapse. The only good news is that the Ags have the best defensive player in the country on their side with Myles Garrett. If we would have known how far this defense would develop in year one under Chavis, I likely would have projected the Aggies as an 11-win team. Right now some might question if they finish with seven wins. I still say Texas A&M rights the ship and finishes with 9-regular season wins and a tenth victory in their bowl game, a finish any Aggie would (and should) hope for right now – TAMU wins 35-20.

UTEP (+24) @ Southern Mississippi, 1:30 PM

We’ll keep this one short and sweet. While I always like to give Texas teams the benefit of the doubt, there isn’t much doubt here. UTEP is one of Conference USA’s bottom-dwellers while the Golden Eagles are one of Conference USA’s best teams. There won’t be anything worth watching in this one – USM wins 45-20.

Despite a poor start, UT has started to play with confidence

#12 Oklahoma State (-3) @ Texas Tech, 2:30 PM, ESPN

Texas Tech is on the verge of collapse. After a competitive game against TCU, the Red Raiders have been handily defeated by Baylor and Oklahoma. I still hold that Tech is a solid squad that ends the year ranked. No matter how much I beat the drum, I’m sure few if any believe that sentiment any longer. The third highest ranked team in the Big 12, Oklahoma State has had plenty of close calls and our friends in Austin would probably argue the Cowboys shouldn’t be undefeated. Well I say Tech takes care of that problem. The Red Raiders finally put it all together and pull the upset they’ve been waiting for all season – Tech wins 45-38.

Crazy prediction of the week: “Texas Tech wins their last four games and finishes the

regular season ranked.”

Tulsa (-3.5) @ SMU, 3:00 PM, ESPNEWS

I must admit I’m shocked about the line on this one. The Pony faithful apparently came out strong. Tulsa has yet to win a conference game, but that’s hard to hold against them as two were against ranked Houston and Memphis and the third was against strong East Carolina in an away matchup. Remember this team was two scores from upsetting Oklahoma. While Tulsa might be the best four-loss team in the country, SMU continues to showcase one of the best offensive talents in Matt Davis. While Davis may help SMU keep this competitive, the Mustang defense will not be able to stop the Tulsa attack led by former Baylor coordinator Philip Montgomery – Tulsa wins 52-35.

Vanderbilt (+11) @ #18 Houston, 6:00 PM, ESPN2

When was the last time an SEC team was a two-score underdog to Houston? No really when? I certainly don’t know. It may never have happened. Granted its Vanderbilt (and a particularly bad Vanderbilt at that), but Herman has shown what a capable coach can do at what many consider a second-tier coaching job in Texas. Honestly, Vandy will be lucky if it ends that close – Houston wins 38-17.

Texas (-6.5) @ Iowa State, 6:00 PM, Fox Sports 1

Texas continues to build on their momentum from the Oklahoma win and now they are squarely favored against Iowa State. Even when the Longhorns were struggling, I still considered them favorites to win this game, as well as the Kansas game. Considering I picked Rice to beat Texas, that kind of tells you what I think of ISU and Kansas. That being said, ISU was beating TCU after one quarter of play and the Cyclones have been oh-so-close to upsetting UT more than once in the past few years. The ‘Horns will need to maintain focus, but they should move one step closer to bowl eligibility – UT wins 31-18.

UTSA (-9.5) @ UNT, 6:00 PM

The only matchup between two Texas schools this week won’t be anything exciting. UNT continues their spiral. Unfortunately, this Mean Green team might be the worst team in the country. UTSA isn’t much better. While Coker was a splash hire, the Roadrunners may be joining the hunt for a new coach sooner rather than later – UTSA wins 31-13.

Crazy-end-of-the-year-predictions:

Made in week six: “Greg Ward Jr. ends the season as a Heisman Finalist and makes the trip to New York . . .”

Made in week seven: “Houston will make it to the final week of the regular season undefeated and face Navy for the AAC West crown. Cougars win and play Temple in the AAC title game. . .”

Made in week eight: “Baylor wins their third straight Big 12 crown while going undefeated and making the National Championship game. . .”

Made in week nine: “Texas Tech wins their last four games and finishes the regular season ranked.”

My Record This Season

56-14

My All-Time Record

56-14

Texas v. the Nation This Season

27-26

*Division I FBS Texas teams

(These are solely the opinions of Ryan Sprayberry and do not represent the thoughts or beliefs of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame)

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