Personal or personnel? Assessing factors in Kelly Bryant's recruitment

By: Harry King
Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant (2) warms up before the first half of an NCAA college football game between Georgia Tech and Clemson, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant (2) warms up before the first half of an NCAA college football game between Georgia Tech and Clemson, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

LITTLE ROCK — Let’s say Kelly Bryant announcing his destination on Chad Morris’ 50th birthday is only a coincidence and that the former Clemson quarterback is undecided.

What if Bryant’s decision comes down to personal or personnel; relationship or reality?

In the one-on-one category, Arkansas has a leg up on the other four schools under consideration; not so much if winning big is Bryant’s top priority.

Bryant — who has enjoyed more TV time than any quarterback in civvies — is to announce Dec. 4 whether he will use his final year of eligibility at Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State, Missouri or North Carolina. Miami was supposedly a contender, but Bryant canceled his visit this week, only days after mentioning coach Mark Richt’s success preparing players for the NFL.

Bryant, 16-2 as a starter including a Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama last season in the College Football Playoff, left Clemson this year after Dabo Swiney named five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence the starter.

Bryant’s relationship with Morris goes back to Bryant’s high school days in Calhoun Falls, S.C., when Morris, then Swinney’s offensive coordinator, was his primary recruiter. After making an official visit to Arkansas last month, Bryant said Morris was one of the first coaches to contact him after he decided to leave Clemson and that “it’s like we didn’t skip a beat.”

“Just talking to coach Morris, he’s always been the same guy, even when he was at other places,” Bryant said. “It just means a lot, that trust factor.”

Score one for Arkansas? Maybe, but Bryant had something positive to say after other visits, too.

He claimed a connection with Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, cited Drew Lock’s progress at Missouri in one season under new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, and noted the Mississippi State players’ eagerness to share their enthusiasm for first-year coach Joe Moorhead.

At 22, he is diplomatic and not exactly wide-eyed.

That said, none of the competing schools have a returning starter with Bryant’s credentials. At Missouri and Mississippi State, the leading candidates to start in 2019 played sparingly behind Lock and Nick Fitzgerald, and the situation will be the same at Auburn if Jarrett Stidham opts for the NFL draft.

Plus, Bryant is much more of a dual threat than Ty Storey at Arkansas and Nathan Elliott at North Carolina.

What if Bryant is looking for the team that might win enough to earn him national attention for his role?

Getting a read on that angle is difficult, although none of the five suitors appear equipped to duplicate Clemson’s trip to the CFP.

Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State are going to play in a bowl game, but Lock did most of the heavy lifting for the Tigers and the MSU defense — No. 2 in the nation against scoring after giving up two field goals to Arkansas — loses at least three key players to the NFL.

At both Arkansas and Auburn, Bryant used the phrase “all the pieces,” but context is significant. Regarding the Razorbacks, the reference involved the high-quality athletes in Morris’ top 20 recruiting class for 2019; with the Tigers “all the pieces” was followed by “that they have coming back.”

There is a difference. Other than some skill players, even the most talented freshmen take time to transition to the SEC.

If Bryant was paying close attention while at the Razorbacks’ game against Tulsa, he wondered if Arkansas’ revamped offensive line will improved and whether reliable wide receivers will be available. In addition, he was in Starkville, Miss., last week and watched the Hogs’ defense give up 52 points. Winning is difficult when the defense allows 34 or more points in seven of 11 games.

If the possibility of a prominent bowl game is part of Bryant’s equation and Stidham is headed to the pros, Auburn makes the most sense.

Meanwhile, simply being bowl eligible in 2019 would be a giant step forward for Arkansas, so Bryant being a Razorback likely comes down to the depth of his bond with the head coach.

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