When Kelly Bryant was shunted to second-string at Clemson, he became a galloping ghost. He didn’t grace another practice. He announced his plans to transfer less than 48 hours after his demotion. Four days after that, the Tigers found themselves in need of a capable No. 2 quarterback, the newly-promoted Trevor Lawrence having been knocked from the game against Syracuse.
Bryant, however, was elsewhere. Clemson’s national title hopes appeared outbound, too. It trailed Syracuse 23-13 in the fourth quarter. Had that result held, the Tigers wouldn’t have won the ACC Atlantic and wouldn’t graced a College Football Playoff it wound up winning. If not for a fourth-and-6 completion by freshman Chase Brice of Grayson High, Cartersville’s Lawrence couldn’t have done what he did to Alabama come January.
But enough about Clemson’s holdover Georgians. Back to Bryant.
He left Clemson, which he’d led to the CFP the year before, in a snit. “I just don’t feel I’ve gotten a fair shot,” he told the Greenville News. (Never mind that he’d started the Tigers’ first four games last season, including a 49-21 victory over Georgia Tech the day before he was bumped downstairs. Never mind that Lawrence could become the best collegiate quarterback since … Charlie Ward? Jim Plunkett? Sammy Baugh?)
Bryant was in Calhoun Falls, S.C., when the Tigers undressed Bama in Santa Clara, Calif. “It was great seeing them win the national championship,” he said Monday, speaking at SEC Media Days. “It was a little odd sitting at home, not being there at the end.”
By then, though, he’d picked his next school. On Dec. 4, he tweeted that he was bound for Missouri, meaning the man who once followed Deshaun Watson would next have the chance to succeed Drew Lock. Said Mizzou coach Barry Odom of Bryant: “He was a fit from the moment he stepped on campus ... He has a low, low ego.”
But wait. On Jan. 31, the NCAA hit Missouri with a postseason ban for 2019. Players of a team hit by such a ban can transfer and become immediately eligible elsewhere. So would Bryant – the third-most famous transfer among Portal Class No. 1, after Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields – bail on the program he’d just joined?
Nope. “I did not consider it,” he said. “I was at peace with my decision. I was happy where I was.”
If Bryant is as good as he was at Clemson in 2017 – the Tigers went 12-2, losing to Alabama in the CFP semis – Missouri might have a real chance to break upward. The Tigers have spent the three seasons after Gary Pinkel resigned struggling for traction, having gone 4-8, 7-6 and 8-5 under Odom. The Tigers’ schedule is so friendly they could well by 8-0 when they play Georgia in Sanford Stadium on Nov. 9. And yet, as we speak, they’re the one SEC team that cannot grace the conference championship game.
Important words: As we speak. Missouri was incensed by the sanctions – incurred because of what the Tigers consider a rogue tutor – and has filed an appeal. Said athletic director Jim Sterk: “It is hard to fathom that the university could be cited for exemplary cooperation throughout this case, and yet end up with these unprecedented penalties that could unfairly and adversely impact innocent current and future Mizzou student-athletes.”
That appeal is pending, which means the Tigers aren’t sure what their season might hold. Said Odom: “We took an opportunity when dealt some information from the NCAA. It raised the bar on who we want to be and how we’re going to get there. Life is not fair, and what do you control?”
This being the cutthroat league where It Just Means More, four SEC programs – identified by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M – were pursuing Mizzou players. “Who’s that team we beat 51-7?” Odom asked. “Tennessee? Yeah, those guys. They are non-stop reaching out daily.”
(Note: Tennessee is coached by Jeremy Pruitt, formerly a defensive coordinator at Georgia and Alabama.)
On Monday, Odom noted, rather archly: “We did not have one kid enter the transfer portal.
Then: “They drew a line in the land and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do in 2019,’ and they stood by it.’
Said Bryant: “The coaches said, ‘Do what you’ve got to do. If you want to be here, we want you to be here.’ ”
From the Tigers’ perspective, the good news is that their roster is populated by players who want to be in Columbia, Mo. The less-good is that what might be breakthrough season could be a road to nowhere. They could win their appeal – though it must be said that the Committee on Infractions doesn’t levy postseason bans lightly – and the Tigers do have a point. How could they get a ban for an academic scandal not nearly as widespread as North Carolina’s, which got next to nothing? (The NCAA will still be trying to explain its handling of the Tar Heels a hundred years from now.)
Said Odom, all but biting his tongue: “We anticipate that, hopefully, we’ll get some closure soon.”
As for Bryant, he figures this is his last chance “to put a positive spin on my chance to play at the next level.” His offensive coordinator will be Derek Dooley, son of Vince, and he has worked in the NFL. “Coach Dooley wants to attack vertically down the field,” Bryant said, and it’s possible attacking could yield double-digit wins. It’s less clear whether Mizzou will have a chance to win anything worth winning.
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