(Image courtesy: USA Today Sports)
You could see it coming a mile away. When Kelly Bryant announced mid-week he would transfer from Clemson, the Tigers’ biggest worry immediately became Trevor Lawrence’s health. Everyone knows how tough it is to keep every QB happy when you can only play one at a time, but it’s very tough to give three players enough reps in practice to be ready to play too. Chase Brice, the kid who suddenly found himself as QB2 entering Saturday, had very little time to prepare for the situation he faced in Death Valley – trailing 16-7 with dreams of a national championship hanging in the balance.
Thanks to a 203-yard, three-touchdown effort from Travis Etienne, the Tigers survived against Syracuse 27-23, but Lawrence’s injury midway through the second quarter exposed why the rule that allowed Kelly Bryant to transfer needs to change. Hear me out.
I am ALL for college athletes having control over their careers, and a system that enables them to transfer more freely is ultimately a good thing. However, the change that allows upperclassmen who play key roles on their team to up and leave midseason is not what the spirit of the rule was designed to allow. Plenty of people have advocated for more lax transfer restrictions — College Football Free Agency, essentially — and I typically agree.
Can you name another sport where free agents just leave midseason? If you’re under contract, or under scholarship, you should have an obligation to complete a season if you finish it. I have no problem with Kelly Bryant protecting his own best interests and taking advantage of the rule as it is written today. He did the right thing for his future, and Dabo Swinney did the right thing by Kelly and allowing him to make that decision. But why can’t the four-game redshirt rule apply only to freshmen, or perhaps just underclassmen, which are the players the rule was designed to help? The idea behind this rule change was to give young players a chance to play in a handful of games without losing an entire year of eligibility. Too many times a young player would be thrust into a game thanks to injury, ejection, or suspension of a player ahead of them, see very limited action and lose an entire year of eligibility because of it. Kelly Bryant found a loophole, which he had every right to do, and exploited it.
Now close the loophole.
Playing sports can serve as a valuable teacher of life lessons throughout your youth. Kelly Bryant learned one this week when he lost his job to someone with more talent. His comments after deciding to leave showed why this was a learning experience for him.
“They asked me how I felt about it,” Bryant said about his final 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.”
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t just reward good people for doing the right thing. Even the most well-behaved, well-intended people can go through adversity. Sometimes, you just lose out to someone who’s better than you. It wasn’t a “slap in the face”, like he called it. I’m not here to run Bryant through the mud for saying it, though. He’s a young kid who hopefully will be better for dealing with this moment in his life now. I hope he continues to do the right things, stay out of trouble, and eventually he’ll find success and happiness — on the field and off of it.
If Kelly Bryant wasn’t allowed to play in a single game this season without burning his redshirt, Clemson would have named Trevor Lawrence the starter in August. If Swinney did the right thing this week by giving Bryant the opportunity to transfer out, he would have done it a month ago, too. At least then, Bryant would have taken care of his own best interests without leaving his teammates out to dry. As it is now, there are about 100 other players who “have done everything they were asked to do” that nearly lost their shot at a national title because Bryant vanished from the roster without warning.
If a veteran player feels he’s better off at another school, I’m all for it. But once the season hits, this can’t happen.
Hokies Upgraded at QB
I hate it for Josh Jackson, who seems like a great kid with a great family, but Virginia Tech upgraded at quarterback with Ryan Willis. Jackson’s likely done for the year after fracturing his tibia towards the end of the loss to Old Dominion, and honestly it wasn’t remotely his fault for losing that game anyway. That loss fell on the defense, and a total lack of effort/preparation by everyone in maroon and orange that day.
However, thanks to an emphatic response by the defense, and a crisp passing attack led by Willis, Virginia Tech looks like they’ll compete for an ACC Coastal crown after all.
Willis’ 332 yards and three touchdowns helped lift the Hokies over Duke 31-14 in the most impressive game the team’s played all season. Forget about Florida State, who looks like it might need a miracle just to reach six wins. Duke is well-coached, full of experience, and a proven team through four weeks. Bud Foster called this the best Duke team he’s faced in his 14 years in the ACC, and he’s probably right.
Willis is the best pure passer Virginia Tech has had since Tyrod Taylor (and you could even raise a question at that, although in my mind Tyrod was absolutely a complete college quarterback by his senior year). His touch on downfield passes to a handful of young receivers was remarkable. For 20 years, third-and-long just meant Tech had one more play before sending out the punt team. Willis connected on some long-yardage throws to keep drives alive that have been a rarity for a Tech offense for a long time.
This was just another iteration of the future of Hokie football with Justin Fuente. Of those 332 passing yards, 315 of them were caught by freshmen or sophomores. Fuente has made it a priority to recruit speed and size at the receiver spot, and it’s starting to show. The Hokies are basically fielding a JV team this season with as many underclassmen as they have playing meaningful snaps. That doesn’t excuse the ODU loss, but it certainly helps explain it. The goal all along for 2018 was to keep things from falling apart, and build towards 2019 and 2020, both of which could be special seasons in Blacksburg. It stung at the time, but that loss in Norfolk might have been a very important lesson for those young kids when we look back in a year or two.
THE JP Top 10
I’ll have a CFB Country podcast breaking down my JP Top 10 on Monday. For now, here are the best teams in college football, based on their resumes (NOT the eye test) so far this season.
Go subscribe to the podcast here so you’ll have it delivered right to your phone Monday.
1. Ohio State
3. Notre Dame
8. West Virginia
10. Penn State