Kelly Bryant is visiting Starkville for this weekend’s game. What if he ends up playing for Mississippi State football?
The easing of transfer restrictions within the NCAA and the start-now, look-out-for-yourself mentality of the modern era of college football has provided collegiate athletics the excitement and anxiety that big-time free agency moves give to fans at the pro levels of athletics. Up until now, Mississippi State football has remained relatively unaffected by this more dynamic way of acquiring talent this new era has wrought upon the sport (note the word relatively; $189,000 was used to affect MSU transfer prospects in a big way just years ago). But today, a huge transfer prospect is potentially on the horizon for several college football teams in the Southeast. Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant will be visiting Mississippi State’s campus this Saturday and observe as #25 Mississippi State observes military appreciation Saturday and senior day while taking on the Arkansas Razorbacks. Bryant is transferring from Clemson and has stated that he intends to use his final year of collegiate athletic eligibility at one of six schools: North Carolina, Miami, Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri, and Mississippi State. The senior signal caller has a career completion percentage of 66% and averages 7.1 yards per attempt. He has 16 career TD’s to 10 interceptions and led Clemson to its third consecutive College Football Playoff selection. Bryant has announced that he will publicly declare his transfer decision on December 4, and he is eligible to play in 2019 without sitting out a season.
Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Mississippi State is a unique place amongst the schools Bryant has named as finalists for a few reasons. First, Mississippi State has had (and should have once the year is over) the best season of any of these teams. The only teams that have a chance to have a comparable win-loss record are Auburn and Mizzou, and Auburn will probably finish behind MSU by virtue of both the head-to-head tiebreaker and outright record once Alabama plays Auburn. Mizzou may finish with the same record, but MSU is the stronger team on tape. The others on the list have had dismal seasons. Also, MSU is one of two teams on the list that underperformed but did not totally crash and burn this year. Read: there’s potential; we’re perhaps only a few pieces away from a legitimate championship. We have the scheme and the depth to compete on defense, the growth and maturation of pass catchers, versatile running back, and strong frontline on offense, and maybe the head coach to utilize Kelly Bryant’s skills effectively. Auburn represents the other semi-successful but still disappointing football team on the list, and they have bigger fish to fry than a quarterback issue, namely a coach on the hot seat and a porous offensive line. Mississippi State stands as the best chance Bryant has to be on a successful football team, period. However, Mississippi State also is perhaps the school with the most depth at quarterback. That’s not to say the other schools don’t have quarterback options, but I think MSU’s QB situation is the most sound regardless of the addition of Bryant, because of the depth at that position and the strong recruiting that has gone on for the Bulldogs. Kelly Bryant is no lock to start at MSU next season. He may very well win the job, but not without Keytaon Thompson having something to say about it. Thompson has been touted as the heir apparent to Nick Fitzgerald, but a Bryant transfer could certainly shake up that hierarchy. You have to think that Kelly Bryant would not transfer somewhere that he could not for sure start from day one; a promise from coach Moorhead or extreme confidence in his ability to win the job would have to be in place for Bryant to come to MSU. This is why I think his odds of choosing the Bulldogs are low. Coaches can’t make guarantees like that, and I haven’t seen enough from Bryant to think that he will for sure take over the starting quarterback position over Thompson.
A Kelly Bryant transfer to Mississippi State could and probably will result in some attrition of the MSU roster. Currently, Keytaon Thompson is slated to be the leading candidate for the starting job as a junior next season. Jalen Mayden will be a redshirt freshman that has recorded some limited game reps. Garret Shraeder is a highly-touted recruit with a polished passing ability MSU has lacked for three years, and he will be a true freshman next season. Kelly Bryant would add a senior QB to the mix, and who knows how the cards shake out after that. Shraeder could easily redshirt, but he and Mayden are set to compete for the starting job during their respective true junior/redshirt sophomore and redshirt junior seasons if everything stays as-is. Suppose Bryant comes to MSU and starts all season (never giving cause for another QB to see action in more than four games), and Thompson redshirts rather than waiting to start only one season or transferring to another school (he has never redshirted, so a redshirt season wouldn’t totally throw him off schedule). Now, in 2020 and 2021, you have Maden, Shraeder, and Thompson competing for the starting spot. Maden would be a sophomore in 2020, Shraeder would be a sophomore or freshman, and Thompson would be a junior or senior. All three have starting potential. You have to think one of the quarterbacks that don’t start in that situation transfers. Also, Bryant could start next season and Thompson transfer elsewhere to start two seasons of football for sure. Another route would be Thompson potentially taking the altruistic rout and settling for a single season as the sole starter for Mississippi State, letting Shraeder and Mayden proceed to compete with each other as scheduled while still incorporating Kelly Bryant into the MSU fold. The ideal situation is this: Bryant comes to MSU, and starts for the 2019 season. Neither Thompson nor Mayden record enough action in the 2019 season under the new redshirt rule to burn their redshirts (Maden’s second, Thompson’s first), and Shraeder preserves his redshirt and probably never sees the field. Now, you have the exact same quarterback situation as if Bryant had never played, just postponed a year for every quarterback involved. I don’t know if Maden would be keen on staying here 6 years and never being a lock to start, nor am I certain Thompson would like the idea of redshirting. There are so many variables at play here; with redshirt rules and transfer rules being as liberal as they’ve ever been, it’s difficult to predict the future of the Bulldog quarterback situation.
Because of reasons that have been discussed, I find it unlikely that Bryant transfers to Mississippi State. Although the team situation is perhaps better at Mississippi State than anywhere else, Bryant has a personal future to worry about. His prospective NFL future would be in jeopardy at Mississippi State, should he spend most of his final year of eligibility on the bench behind Keytaon Thompson. Auburn seems like a good landing spot for Kelly Bryant. Bryant is Cam Newton-like and Nick Marshall-esque, and I think most would agree that those two guys did pretty well at Auburn. Because of the success of quarterback transfers at Auburn and the success of similar-styled QBs in Gus Malzahn’s system, along with Auburn being the second-most ready-to-win team on this list, don’t be surprised if Auburn lands Bryant. However, Bryant may not want to commit to a coach whose future is uncertain the way the Malzahn’s is at Auburn. Mizzou has had a nice season, and they may very well be on the upswing with or without Bryant, but I have not seen the consistency from Mizzou that would convince me that Bryant would have a more successful season as a Mizzou Tiger than as a Bulldog at MSU. Where he may put up the best numbers is hard to say, but Bryant may be scouting for the best stat-padding season he can muster to improve his draft stock. If he’s approaching with that mentality, then any of the SEC programs that he’s listed could be his destination.
Some people are unsure that Kelly Bryant’s arrival at the MSU campus would be good for this football program. They are worried about the prospective roster attrition, the possibilities of which were detailed earlier. However, make no mistake about it—even if it results in the transfer of some of our young players, we do want Kelly Bryant here at MSU. If he wins the job, then he is a better player than those already on campus and we have the better QB on the field. If he doesn’t win the job, he will certainly push whoever does earn the spot to be a better version of himself. No matter what happens, the addition of great football players cannot be bad for this team. An interesting wrinkle to this is that Bryant has chosen 3 SEC West schools as his perspective targets for a transfer. That means if he doesn’t choose Mississippi State, there’s a 2 in 5 chance that he’ll line up opposite of your Bulldogs next season. That is something I don’t want at all. This is yet another reason why Bryant would only help MSU because he’d certainly be better off for us on our team than our opponent’s, especially if that opponent is Auburn. Although MSU handled Marshall well, Newton was a nightmare for every team he played and Marshall was a fantastic college quarterback. If he chooses Auburn as his next team, then a team that we manhandled this season with a one-dimensional offense suddenly becomes more prolific than anticipated next season for our away game vs Auburn. And I don’t want to take the chance of running into Chad Morris’s overhauled offensive system late into its second year and having it flex its muscles against us in Fayetteville in 2019.
This is just one writer’s attempt to unravel the minutia of a single young man’s ultimate decision as to where he’s to spend his final year of college football. Don’t be surprised if nothing I’ve proposed comes to pass, as I nor anybody has access to the content of Kelly Bryant’s mind. If he’s to be a Bulldog, then the Mississippi State family will welcome him with open hearts and arms and have no trouble making room for another talented football player. If he chooses to take his skills elsewhere, we wish him the best of luck and safe season wherever he chooses to make his hay as a collegiate athlete.