COLUMBIA, Mo. – Barry Odom and Missouri football have shocked the college sports landscape.
The Tigers beat out Southeastern Conference perennial power Auburn and landed the hottest prize on the college free agent market in former Clemson superstar quarterback Kelly Bryant. Wait, I meant graduate transfer market. Sorry, NCAA.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound signal caller finally ended a two-month recruiting saga Tuesday evening by committing to Missouri the only way a prospect knows in 2018: posting a flashy hype video to his personal Twitter account.
If Bryant follows the usual trend of graduate transfers, he'll enroll at Missouri in January and be a full participant in spring football. The good news didn't stop there for Missouri, as former Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance also announced he was joining the Tigers as a graduate transfer on Tuesday.
First, I’ll allow you a quick moment to pick your jaw off the floor; a prospect as flashy as Bryant told a program like Auburn “no thanks” because he really wanted to play at Missouri. This despite an 11th-hour Hail Mary in-home visit from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn Tuesday afternoon. MU also beat out other suitors Arkansas, North Carolina and Mississippi State for Bryant’s services.
That hardly ever happens. Times are changing for Missouri football for the better, and Odom deserves a ton of credit for landing the quarterback Tiger fans have been begging for. It's why I advocated for Missouri to give him a raise, which it did on Wednesday.
Anyway, on to the football aspect of MU landing Bryant. There’s two things that jump off the page about Bryant's decision.
1. MU has a clear replacement for Drew Lock. Bryant will enter the 2019 season as the Tigers’ undisputed starter. No disrespect to incumbent Missouri quarterbacks Taylor Powell and Micah Wilson, but there’s a reason Missouri ran a full-court press for Bryant. Neither are ready to be a starting SEC quarterback. Nor is incoming three-star freshman Connor Bazelak, who will need at least a year to adjust to college football after coming from a high school program that ran a wishbone offense.
2. Maybe more importantly, the Tigers are going to be relevant on a national stage. Thanks to countless ESPN interviews and a College Football Playoff start, even casual college football fans know who Bryant is.
Immediately after Missouri’s bowl game against Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve, Missouri football is in for an eight-month-long offseason hype train. That’s great for season ticket sales.
Yet, it’s fair to wonder if Bryant is more hype than substance.
At Clemson, Bryant was 16-2 as a starter. But he also was surrounded by waves of talent at every position on offense. Including his own, as five-star prospect Trevor Lawrence’s upheaval of Bryant earlier this year is the only reason he became available to the Tigers in the first place.
In his lone full season as a starter for Clemson in 2017, Bryant was 262-of-398 passing for 2,802 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also ran for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns, while leading the Orange Tigers to a national semifinals appearance.
Just going to put this out there: Lock is a much better quarterback than Bryant. But Bryant is a superior athlete.
As a quarterback, Bryant is a plus athlete who sometimes struggles to pass downfield. He can keep plays alive with his legs and throw on the run. At this time, he’s not a legit NFL prospect. But he is a nice college quarterback and a household name.
While Clemson was stacked with weapons in Bryant's tenure, Missouri's cupboard isn't bare.
The Tigers will bolster a set of pass catchers featuring Jalen Knox, Johnathon Johnson, Nance, Kam Scott and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (assuming he doesn't go pro). All three key running backs are returning in Larry Rountree, Damarea Crockett and Tyler Badie. The offensive line should remain stout with three returning starters, including All-SEC pick Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms.
If the Tigers can just figure out the secondary, all the pieces could be in place for the season some MU fans thought they were going to get in 2018.
It will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Derek Dooley is going to cook up schematically in an offense centered around Bryant. Here's guessing you're probably going to be sick of the term RPO (run-pass option) more than you already are.
Regardless of how it plays out, Missouri finally has its quarterback. Only a couple months till spring football.
– Garrick Hodge is sports editor for the Columbia Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.