Note: This post was originally published in July, long before Florida began recruiting Stidham in earnest, but almost everything about it holds up. Obviously, there are some differences — Stidham took 2016 off, Florida's got more playing time on offer than we originally thought — but landing him still seems more like a pipe dream than a legitimate possibility, at least to me.
Look: Florida's painful recent history with quarterbacking, even though it may be poised to be muted soon, is going to make literally any quarterback with collegiate eligibility of some name or repute appealing to Gators fans. I understand that. That's why I nod in recognition when I see tweets like Adam Silverstein's about newly-minted Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham.
Jim McElwain should zero in on Jarrett Stidham. Top-flight dual-threat QB transfer available at a major position of need for #Gators.— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) July 7, 2016
I agree with Silverstein, to a point, and I think he makes his point well in his elaboration. The logic is compelling.
Yes, Stidham is a top-flight QB, looking the part of his high four-star ranking — Stidham was the No. 38 prospect in the 2015 recruiting class, per the 247Sports Composite, just three spots removed from the last five-star prospect at No. 35 — as a freshman at Baylor. In action that mostly took place against the Big 12, thanks to an injury to starter Seth Russell, Stidham threw for more than 1,200 yards, completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, and posted an alarming 11.6 yards per attempt that would have been the best mark in FBS history had he been eligible to lead the nation in that category.
Some of his success was no doubt due to house effects of Baylor's potent offense under Art Briles, which also churned out gaudy numbers for Nick Florence and Bryce Petty after Robert Griffin III established it as a machine. But Stidham was as good as Russell was — and Russell was a fringe Heisman candidate, with better stats than RG3.
Could Florida use one of those Heisman candidate dudes at QB? Of course it could.
But can Florida convince Stidham to come to Gainesville? I seriously doubt it.
While it seems clear to me on the basis of pure logic that Stidham — and any other Baylor player not complicit in the school's cultural failings under Briles and other more powerful men1 — should be able to successfully petition the NCAA for immediate eligibility at another FBS school, that's not yet been proven by someone successfully doing so. And so Florida, like any other FBS school, would initially be recruiting him with promises about 2017.
It makes some sense, if Florida's coaches think that Stidham could be as good as he was in 2015 in their system in 2017, for the Gators to make overtures and promises to Stidham based on the potential for him to start for them in 2017. But that would disrupt an effort to pour a foundation at QB that Florida has sorely lacked; bringing in Stidham would be a coup, sure, but it's a safe bet that it would come at the expense of losing at least one of freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask and 2017 commit Jake Allen, if not more.
And there's nothing I know of that suggests Florida was ever a player for Stidham during his recruitment, nor is there evidence that Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier, each at other schools for most of the 2015 cycle, have any pre-existing relationship with him beyond Nussmeier being listed as his Michigan recruiter by 247Sports.
Texas Tech does, because Stidham committed to Tech once, which is part of why Red Raiders fans are totally cool with Stidham returning to their fold. Texas and Texas A&M surely do, simply because Stidham was one of the top QBs in the state, though all three coaches listed as Stidham's recruiters for both of those schools now work elsewhere. Houston might, too, with Tom Herman having recruited him for Ohio State. That's probably not where the list ends, either, and while relationships aren't the only thing Stidham will factor into his recruitment, they're not a plus for Florida.
Other than the brief period of wild success that Will Grier had last fall, actually, I'm not sure what is a plus for Florida in Stidham's evaluation. The shot at playing time that Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby (and Franks and Trask) were sold isn't so easy to sell to Stidham without an explicit promise, and McElwain's seeming refusal to make a similar promise to Grier is part of why Grier is now a Mountaineer.
If you were Jarrett Stidham, and Florida came calling, you might listen, yeah. But, putting our orange and blue blood aside, do you think you would find what McElwain et al. are saying more compelling than what virtually every coach with a brain and a way to get on the phone with you and your family is going to be saying?
I wouldn't fault Florida for taking a shot in the dark at Stidham. I wouldn't fault Florida for missing. I do wonder, though, if there's something faulty in fans seriously considering every conceivable path for Florida football, no matter how far-fetched, rather than focusing on the most logical and reasonable ones.
Here is where I parenthetically address the ickiness of pursuing college football players who are considering changing schools because the people they once trusted with their collegiate careers did some things ranging from stupid to cruel in defense of other players' collegiate careers: No, it wouldn't make me feel good, really ... but Stidham and most other Baylor players did nothing actively wrong.
They did not create the culture that Baylor ought to now eradicate from its campus, nor the greater one that has made that culture endemic and toxic at other campuses and in other parts of our society. They do, still, have the privilege of looking for places to continue their athletic and academic careers — even if that means following those coaches who betrayed their trust before. And if Florida thinks it can be a home to one or more of those players, I don't know that it's exactly wrong to propose such an idea to said players. It did end up with Mike Rosario after Mike Rice's abhorrent abuse of players at Rutgers, after all.