Kelly Bryant led Clemson to the College Football Playoff last year. He began this season as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. The senior quarterback started the Tigers’ first four games and won them all. The annual quest for a national championship is very much alive, hopes buoyed by a weak ACC.
And now he’s transferring after losing his job to freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence. Doing so after four games will preserve his eligibility for another year elsewhere. Bryant came, he waited, he conquered. Then he left.
Such is life and such will be life in the new college football. Coaches like Dabo Swinney, who have an embarrassment of riches in the talent department, will create competition structures. The cream will rise to the top. The less-rising cream will be faced with a dilemma: stay and hope for an injury, or seek greener pastures.
It’s a great system for the haves, less so for the have-nots. For players, though, the jury is out. This stuff is complicated. Sure, it can work out splendidly on paper. If coach and player are on the same page and scenarios are discussed in advance, that will help mitigate any ugliness. The system is not unlike NFL preseason, where players compete for jobs.
But even when things are done correctly, emotions and feelings get involved. A no-strings relationship sounds great. It sounds like it should be easy to use each other and go about one’s merry way before attachments are made.
“I feel like it’s what’s best for me and my future,” Bryant said in an exclusive interview with The Greenville News. “I was just going to control what I could control and try to make the most of my opportunity, but at the end of the day, I just don’t feel like I’ve gotten a fair shot.”
“They asked me how I felt about it,” Bryant said, recalling his meeting with Swinney. “I was like, ‘I’m not discrediting Trevor. He’s doing everything asked of him, but on my side of it, I feel like I haven’t done anything to not be the starter. I’ve been here. I’ve waited my turn. I’ve done everything y’all have asked me to do, plus more.’
“I’ve never been a distraction. I’ve never been in trouble with anything. To me, it was kind of a slap in the face.”
Again, these comments come after Swinney was seemingly up front and honest about what would be happening with the Clemson quarterback position this year. Imagine how heated things can and will become when the process is clandestine, or worse, intentionally misleading. Imagine the fallout when a coach plays a guy in that fateful fifth game with no intention of further meaningful reps.
This is only the beginning. Players will be burned. Coaches will be burned when a competent replacement transfers before a season-ending injury to the starter. This is a high-wire act and it’s complicated, messy, and without a magical panacea.
Welcome to the new age.