Out with the orange. In with the old gold. Kelly Bryant has changed his Tiger stripes.
How big of a deal was Tuesday night's news that the Clemson graduate transfer quarterback will play his final season for Mizzou?
Let us count the ways . . .
1. Mizzou answered its scariest question about 2019.
Third-year coach Barry Odom had checked many of the boxes Mizzou fans wanted to see filled before they felt really good about the direction of their program.
The Tigers turned a heartbreaking loss against Kentucky into a springboard. They beat a ranked team. They got to eight wins with a chance to make it nine in their second consecutive bowl game. In-state recruiting was on the upswing. Things were looking better all the time.
But up in the distance, there was this QB cloud.
Who would play quarterback after Drew Lock got drafted?
Mizzou fans have become spoiled in this department. Under Gary Pinkel, they always knew who was up next. From Brad Smith, to Lock, the heir was always apparent. Until this season. The most important position on the field was a big question mark in the near future. The junior college answer, Lindsey Scott Jr., fizzled. Lock's backups were blips on the radar. A drastic solution was needed.
Here it is.
2. The Tigers advance with a been-there, done-that leader.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Bryant cannot boast a Lock-like arm. He's more of a dual-threat game-manager than an air-it-out gunslinger.
Yes, Bryant has a career completion percentage of 66.2. But he's only tossed 16 touchdowns in 30 games. For some context, Lock enters the Liberty Bowl with a completion percentage of 56.8, along with 96 touchdowns in 49 games.
Bryant wins the wheels competition, though. Lock's rushed for nine touchdowns. Bryant? Sixteen, in 19 fewer games.
Bryant does not hesitate to run. And he has a whole lot of heart.
He was universally praised as one of Clemson's top leaders. He has a track record of not blinking when moments get big.
In Bryant's 29 career games, his team has gone 27-2. In his 18 games as Clemson starter, his team was 16-2. He's 5-1 in games played against ranked teams, the only loss coming against Alabama in last year's College Football Playoff. His resume includes a 2017 ACC championship, an MVP award from that game and the honor of being one of 11 Manning Award finalists last season.
You might be wondering: Why did Clemson let this guy leave? Trevor Lawrence is why.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney turned to the freshman phenom as his starter after Bryant led Clemson to a 4-0 start this season. The two had been splitting reps before that decision. It was the demotion that led Bryant to grab the redshirt rule and begin his hunt for a one-and-done season elsewhere.
To be clear, Bryant didn't lose his job. Lawrence took it. There is a difference.
“Obviously saddened and disappointed that he’s chosen to leave the team, but I really have absolutely nothing bad that I can say about Kelly Bryant," Swinney told the Post and Courier after the transfer. "He’s one of the best young people I’ve ever been around and even though I don’t think this is a great decision, I certainly respect it. It doesn’t change anything that I feel for Kelly. I love him, care about him and I wish him nothing but the best.”
This stuff happens at the tip-top of the college football mountain. A 22-year-old team leader gets replaced because a 19-year-old phenom forced his coach's hand. If you have watched Lawrence throw, you realize it's not a knock on Bryant to see why Swinney made the move. It's also worth pointing out how long Bryant held Lawrence off before the change. Few would have lasted so long.
3. This offense has a ton of potential.
Back when life post-Lock was a daily worry, it was hard to see the forest for the trees.
Who would get the trees the ball?
That problem is now solved.
The forest can finally be appreciated.
All four running backs — Larry Rountree, Damarea Crockett, Tyler Badie and Simi Bakare — return to a backfield that has averaged more than 200 yards per game against FBS defenses so far this season.
Three of the offensive line's five starters will be back.
Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who has 17 touchdowns in 22 career games, should return since his season was cut short by injury. He could enter the NFL draft, but he hopefully sees he has more developing left to do.
Top wide receiver Emanuel Hall will depart after the Liberty Bowl, but the lack of Lock's arm might have made the deep target a less dangerous threat moving forward anyway. While the Tigers will miss Hall, Bryant should get to throw to the following receivers: Johnathon Johnson (552 receiving yards and four touchdowns this season), Jalen Knox (413 yards, three touchdowns), Kam Scott (214 yards, two touchdowns), Dominic Gicinto (141 yards, one touchdown), Barrett Banister (51 yards) and others who could emerge.
And don't forget Arkansas graduate transfer Jonathan Nance. He announced his commitment to Mizzou shortly after Bryant's. Think one might have made an impact on the other? Nance was only Arkansas' leading receiver in 2017. He totaled 539 yards and five touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley has a variety of talented options to turn to in year two. That can be appreciated now that we know who is catching the snaps.
“What really intrigues me with them is that it’s Coach Dooley’s first year there, and Drew had to go in and learn the system, and you see how he’s playing now,” Bryant told 247Sports during the build-up to his announcement. “That’s just drawing me. If he can go and learn it in one year I know I can go in and learn it as well."
4. The recruiting ripple is real.
Recruits across the country just watched the most sought-after graduate transfer quarterback in the country pick Missouri. Or is it Mizzou? Hey, those uniforms are cool. Oh, that's where Drew Lock plays? They won eight games? In the SEC? Wow.
That, right there, is how it happens.
Land the quarterback everybody wants, the one who got his own sit-down on ESPN when he announced his plans to find a new school, and a lot of interested eyeballs find your brand.
5. Odom just won a heavyweight fight.
What do the following head coaches have in common?
Gus Malzahn of Auburn. Mack Brown of North Carolina. Joe Moorhead of Mississippi State. Chad Morris of Arkansas.
Answer: All of these men just lost to Odom.
Every one of these coaches pitched Bryant on becoming the quarterback to take over their team, and every one of them fell short.
Malzahn is the most surprising. He secured Bryant's last official visit to a campus. He was also believed to be the last coach to visit Bryant before he announced his decision.
Soon after Bryant hit the market, I pointed out why Mizzou should do everything possible to bring him on board. Seeing the need is easy. Filling it? Different story.
Who thought Odom could pull it off?
He's proving his doubters wrong often these days.
@Ben_Fred on Twitter
This article originally ran on stltoday.com.