Seth Russell was recruited by former Kansas coach Turner Gill, and for a while had committed there.
Tim Heitman/Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Rather than playing for one of the best teams in major college football, quarterback Seth Russell was oh-so-close to playing for what is arguably the worst.
The talented junior from the Dallas area was recruited by Kansas coach Turner Gill, and for a while had committed there. But when Gill was fired after the 2011 season, Russell backed out of his pledge and chose to play closer to home, signing instead with Art Briles at Baylor.
On Saturday, Russell will lead the Bears into Memorial Stadium against the Jayhawks.
"Coach Gill was a phenomenal guy. I had high respect for him," Russell said. "I went up there when Coach Gill got released and Coach (Charlie) Weis came in. It just didn’t have the same feel."
Rather than a family, Kansas suddenly felt like a business.
"But when I came to visit Baylor it was just like Kansas all over again, before Coach Weis," Russell explained. "I felt like it was a good fit for myself, and it was."
Russell has the third-ranked Bears (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) in prime position for the College Football Playoff heading into Saturday’s game at Kansas, directing an offense that is putting up the kind of numbers that you only see in video games.
Like 63.8 points per game, and an average of 745 yards of offense.
"I think if Turner stayed the coach up there, we wouldn’t have Seth," Briles said. "Seth was certainly a guy we always wanted and felt he would fit our system."
The Jayhawks (0-4, 0-1) sure could use him these days.
After losing Michael Cummings to a knee injury in the spring game, Montell Cozart to a shoulder sprain and third-stringer Deondre Ford to torn tendons in a finger, coach David Beaty is down to freshman Ryan Willis making his first career start against the Bears. Willis has only played a couple dozen snaps this season, briefly in the opener against South Dakota State and then last week at Iowa State, when Cozart went down with his injury.
No pressure, kid.
"Man, he’s excited. I think that’s the thing that I’m most encouraged about with him," Beaty said. "He is really excited about this opportunity. He has no shortage of confidence. Man, that’s something that you can’t give them. They either have it or they don’t."
Here are some things to watch for as the Bears visit the Jayhawks on Saturday.
LONG ODDS: Depending on the odds-maker, Baylor is favored by about 45 points on Saturday. Not that Briles seems to care. "If we can get out of there 7-6, I’ll get on the plane as happy as I can be," he said. "This is set up now like it’s a playoff situation. You win and advance, win and advance. You don’t win and you’re fighting an uphill battle."
COX RETURNS: Kansas will get running back Taylor Cox back on Saturday. He’s had injuries derail each of the last two seasons. While his impact on the game in yards and points may prove to be minimal, Beaty said this week that his leadership is invaluable.
SHOCK AND AWE: Baylor running back Shock Linwood is averaging 146 yards rushing per game, fifth-best nationally and tops in the Big 12. "It says a lot about our offense running the ball," he said. "It shows that our offense has another way besides the passing game."
CLOSE CALL: There are still a few Baylor players around who were part of the 2011 team, led by Robert Griffin III, that needed overtime to beat Kansas on the road. "They usually have that one game a year where they beat somebody or it’s close," Bears offensive lineman Spencer Drango said. "We don’t want that to be us."
OLD PALS: Briles and Beaty have known each other for years, back when they were both high school coaches in Texas. They even won state titles right after each other in 1999, when Briles coached Stephenville and Beaty was leading Garland. "I’ve had to match up with him a lot, every place I’ve been," Beaty said. "Good coach."