Quality sports drama requires a villain. And that disqualifies the Clemson quarterback situation: No legit heavy.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn’t a bad guy for deciding Trevor Lawrence should start ahead of incumbent Kelly Bryant. And Bryant isn’t a bad guy for deciding to transfer, preserving his final season of college football eligibility to play elsewhere.
Social media is how we gossip and argue on a global platform. When the Greenville (S.C.) News web-published an interview with Bryant Wednesday morning, saying he’d transfer, Twitter blew up.
The reactions, if my timeline is any indication, were impassioned and polarized.
There was the constituency viewing this as Swinney yanking the job from Bryant for no legitimate reason.
Then, there was the backlash at Bryant, suggesting he’s a quitter for not sticking it out with the Tigers as freshman Lawrence’s backup.
Swinney paid all the proper respect to what Bryant contributed last season, succeeding Deshaun Watson and leading the Tigers to the ACC championship and one of four college football playoff slots. But Bryant, for all his leadership and toughness, doesn’t have Lawrence’s skill as a passer.
Clemson’s best chance at winning the national championship — this season and in future seasons — involves installing Lawrence, who has the talent to play in the NFL someday.
That Bryant is disappointed is understandable. That he wants to transfer (while he can still red shirt by limiting his participation to four games) is understandable. He isn’t quitting on his teammates, he’s extending his football career.
I doubt Bryant has the skill set to be an NFL quarterback. But if he wants to optimize whatever chance he has to play professionally, that should be his call.
The temperature of this situation rose Wednesday with the tone of Bryant’s comments to the Greenville News. When he didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday, the guessing started that he was contemplating a transfer. The public nature of his venting was the surprise.
“I feel like I haven’t done anything to not be the starter,” said Bryant, who is 16-2 in his Clemson starts.
“I’ve been here. I’ve waited my turn. I’ve done everything (the coaches) have asked me to do, plus more. I’ve never been a distraction. I’ve never in trouble with anything. To me, it was kind of a slap in the face.”
Bryant is right that he didn’t do anything wrong. He played well enough to still be the starter for most college football teams. But Clemson isn’t most college football teams. It’s a program that recruits on a national scale, that regularly makes the playoffs, that targets winning the national championship.
Lawrence completed a touchdown throw rolling to his left against Georgia Tech Saturday that was breathtaking in its zip and accuracy. That throw was akin to the touchdown pass Watson threw at Georgia as a freshman to take over the starting spot from Cole Stoudt.
Stoudt was a placeholder and Bryant is way better than that description. But Lawrence’s ceiling is way higher than Bryant’s.
I read comments that Swinney has an obligation to Bryant that Lawrence hasn’t yet earned. But what about Swinney’s obligation to all his other players, to give them the best chance to win the national championship? I agree with how Swinney described this on the ACC conference call Wednesday: This isn’t “middle school,” the stakes go way beyond hurt feelings.
Speaking of obligation, Bryant owes nothing to Clemson. No one should shame him for choosing to transfer rather than be an insurance policy against Lawrence getting hurt or not delivering on his potential.
If Bryant chose to stick around with an orange baseball cap and a clipboard, that’d be fine.
But the chance to start elsewhere — Arkansas, coached by former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, strikes me as an intriguing destination — sounds pretty cool.