Conventional wisdom still has it that the 2013 Heisman race is between Johnny Manziel (to become only the second two-time winner ever) and Jameis Winston. FSU is straight trucking opponents, so Winston is logical; Manziel’s team is 8-2, but does have LSU and Missouri remaining (read: could finish 9-3). As of now, they’re ticketed by some for the Capital One Bowl — notably a place where very-good-but-not-great SEC teams go to wrap up a season. Manziel, though, is on pace for almost 4,000 total yards and 47 touchdowns. One name that’s come up a few times in Heisman discussions, but never seemingly above the No. 4 slot, is Bryce Petty, Baylor’s QB. His numbers are strikingly similar to Manziel’s, and his team is undefeated (in a less-competitive conference, yes). Their closest game this season, Kansas State, was 10 points (i.e. two possessions). They beat Oklahoma by 29; their showdown with Oklahoma State this weekend drew the crew from College Gameday.
Baylor got a ton of attention, football-wise, during RG3’s Heisman season — but that team still dropped three games, including getting routed by A&M by nearly 30 points.
Much has been made of what Art Briles has done at Baylor, including his philosophy of trying to “score on every snap.” They do a pretty good job with that idea — look at the drive chart from their most recent win, over Texas Tech. Their first touchdown resulted from three plays, 56 yards, and 52 seconds. Their third touchdown resulted from five plays across 43 yards, done in 61 seconds. Their longest touchdown drive of the game took only three minutes and 38 seconds. Alabama’s first drive in their win over Mississippi State, which resulted in a FG? 7 minutes and 1 second.
Briles’ system is awesome, but someone needs to be at the controls, and that someone — this year — is Bryce Petty, who had to wait behind RG3 and Nick Florence for his shot. This is a great long read on Petty’s journey to becoming a starting QB at Baylor; at one point, right before Phil Fulmer left Tennessee, Petty and Tajh Boyd were the two QBs of the Vols’ future. Lane Kiffin came in and didn’t even contact Petty’s family, which ultimately led the QB to Navarro College. Petty’s recruiter for Knoxville was Jason Michael, currently the San Diego Chargers’ TE coach (football is an extremely interconnected world). Petty has recently been gaining respect in the NFL draft circles, although most classify him as a 2015 prospect.
It’s true that Baylor hasn’t faced anyone except for Oklahoma — Texas Tech is going to be a very good team in a few years, but right now they’re sliding. Two of Baylor’s final three games — the OK State game and Texas to end the season — are two of the three toughest games they play. It is possible that Petty could backslide in those contests, although neither OK State or Texas have truly amazing defenses (Oklahoma State’s points against is fairly solid, though). The Petty story, though, is part of what makes college football great — it’s very rare in the NFL for someone to come out of nowhere and start dominating, and if they do (i.e. Julias Thomas on the Broncos), it’s likely tied to someone else (i.e. Peyton Manning). In college football, big names emerge over a few weeks — at smaller schools that you don’t know for a lot else — almost all the time. It happened at Baylor too; that 2010 team was 7-6 and lost the Texas Bowl to Illinois. One year later, every soul on the CFB-following planet knew RG3.
To see an SEC boy go from almost achieving his dream to hitting up a JUCO to sitting behind a NFL starter and someone who could probably be an NFL starter to leading the country in many passing categories … that’s a great story. That’s what CFB is all about for me. We all know about the Sabans and Manziels and all that, but to see something like Bryce Petty or even Brett Smith at Wyoming is what makes the sport so special: the little stories, the individual developments, the rises from seemingly nowhere, the fervor over colleges you might not be able to place on a map.
Get psyched for this Saturday — it will be a true test for Petty, who passed his last one (Oklahoma) with flying colors. Even if you’re not a Baylor backer, root for the story — and if you are a CFB fan in general, root for another seeming strike against Lane Kiffin.