The Big Joker


You may have heard the big news from the world of college football (at least the ACC) about Kelly Bryant. It seems like an eternity ago now. The senior Clemson quarterback didn’t take well to being usurped as the starter. He asked for and was granted release from the program.

If you spend any time on social media there was about a 50/50 split on his decision to move on from the program. We were even split among the staff here at ACC Nation.

After the initial shock set in, Bryant and Clemson moved on from one another and the dust settled. There’s one big question that needs to be asked here. Did Dabo just ruin the Tigers’ chances at a national championship this year?

The obvious, surface answer is, we don’t know. It’s too early to tell. Who knows? Etc., etc., etc. After I sat back and considered what happened with Syracuse and in a different fashion at Wake Forest my answer is an overwhelming, yes!

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Let’s review a few things and see how I came to that conclusion.

Last year, without Kelly Bryant, Clemson suffered their only loss of the regular season at Syracuse. Yes, Clemson won this year’s battle even after losing Trevor Lawrence early in the 2nd quarter. Even with third string quarterback (or is he second now?) Chase Brice doing everything in his power not to lose the game and honestly, failing miserably.

There were a couple of plays that showed he’s not capable of leading this team through the ACC despite Dabo Swinney’s claim to the contrary. Specifically, one where receiver (and part time magician) Hunter Renfrow stopped, came back  and contorted his body to make a hell of a catch. That play helped keep Clemson’s drive going on a critical third down play.

I bet that Kelly Bryant would have hit Renfrow in stride for a touchdown on that play as the defensive back was trailing him. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, the weapons on offense and defense for Clemson led them to their comeback win. Not Chase Brice.

Let me be blunt. Dabo Swinney made a poor choice in naming Trevor Lawrence as his starting quarterback. Plain and simple. There’s no argument that Lawrence is a better passer than Bryant. I think a blind man could tell you that because it is just that obvious. Lawrence came in on day one as the better passer but we’re overlooking the need for leadership in clutch situations. Want an example? Let’s look at the Texas A&M game where Lawrence failed to get anything going in the second half. In comes Bryant who leads the Tigers to two scores in the third quarter to make it a two score game.

The Big Joker

This is what Clemson allowed to walk away simply because there’s a shinier toy that everyone wants. You can’t overstate having a leader on the field that can calm a team down in a hostile environment. It’s ridiculous to think that a true freshman has that kind of ability. On top of that, it’s putting too much on the kid’s shoulders far too early in the season.

How should it have gone?

Last year, Alabama was led by Jalen Hurts the entire season and he took the Crimson Tide to a National Championship. Tua Tagovailoa had little to no experience going into the championship game but was thrown into the mix in the second half. He helped lead the team to yet another title. If you’ve been paying attention this year Alabama is destroying all of their opponents. I place a great deal of emphasis on the word, destroying.

Now, do you think that Nick Saban suddenly realized that Tagovailoa was the better passing option during half time of the national championship game? Do you believe that it suddenly dawned on Saban that the guy that had been leading the team for the past two seasons wasn’t nearly as good a passer as this true freshman that came in as an early enrollee?

Tagovailoa had been there since the year prior, early in January, developing and showcasing his passing ability for Saban. Yet, Hurts was named the starter right up until the second half of the National Championship game.

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This, my friend, is what separates Nick Saban from the rest of the coaches in college football. Saban knew who the better passer was the moment he saw that first pass on the practice field at Alabama. He also knew that more than likely, in order to get back to the title game he needed a true leader. Someone who was a seasoned veteran to lead his team back to where they’ve grown accustomed to being at Alabama.

The irony is that the Alabama situation is worse than that of Clemson. Hurts is going into his Junior year meaning his still has two years of eligibility. While this was potentially the last year for Bryant had he played the remaining games this season, it was a one year situation at best.

It’s simple. All that Dabo had to do was continue starting Bryant at quarterback and bring in Lawrence when they needed a change of pace. That would have been the perfect learning situation and opportunity to grow for the true freshman. Lawrence could’ve been the Big Joker (Spades) that Dabo had in his back pocket. He could unleash him whenever the momentum began to swing too far in the wrong direction.

The same could be said about Kelly Bryant. He had an ideal situation on his hands and now it’s officially blown up in his face.

Yes, Clemson escaped with a victory at home against Syracuse but what will happen if Trevor Lawrence gets knocked out of a game? It could be on the road against a conference opponent, at the ACC Championship, a playoff game or even during the National Title game.

Chase Brice will not get it done and Kelly Bryant ain’t walking through that door.