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Clemson’s Kelly Bryant becomes biggest four-game transfer so far

The Tigers quarterback is one of the biggest names to exploit an unintended consequence of the NCAA's new redshirt rule, but he won't be the last.
CHRIS URSO | Times Clemson Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant (2) breaks for the end zone during the first quarter against the Miami Hurricanes during their ACC Championship game Saturday, Dec. 02, 2017 in Charlotte, NC. Bryant scored on the drive.
Published Sep. 26, 2018
Updated Sep. 27, 2018

When Richard Kovalcheck became the first quarterback to exploit the NCAA's graduate transfer rule a dozen years ago, he knew others would follow.

"It was just a matter of time before that caught on," Kovalcheck told the Tampa Bay Times in 2015.

It did. Graduate transfers and their immediate eligibility have affected virtually every major program in the country, even helping Alabama win a national title.

Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant looks like a trailblazer at the forefront of college football's next potential transformative trend: the four-game transfer.

A year after leading Clemson to the ACC title and College Football Playoff, Bryant is leaving, four games into the third-ranked Tigers' season.

The timing of Wednesday's announcement was intentional. Bryant, a senior, lost his starting job to freshman Trevor Lawrence on Monday. A new NCAA rule allows players to appear in a maximum of four games without losing a year of eligibility.

Coaches almost universally loved the rule initially because it allows players to fill in for late-season injuries and eat up garbage-time minutes without burning a redshirt season. Departures such as Bryant's are an unintended consequence.

"I don't think anyone saw this (coming)," Arkansas coach Chad Morris said.

That includes Morris. Arkansas' top returning receiver, senior Jonathan Nance, announced he was transferring this week after playing in four games.

Also:

Senior receiver Jalen McCleskey started four games before leaving Oklahoma State, where he ranks in the top 10 in program history in catches and touchdown receptions.

Senior running back Taj Griffin bolted Oregon after he amassed more than 1,200 career yards of offense.

Auburn watched two former Tampa Bay area athletes transfer after Week 3: ex-Tampa Catholic/Pasco High junior receiver Nate Craig-Myers, who started 17 games in two-plus seasons, and his brother, redshirt sophomore defensive back Jayvaughn Myers.

Florida coach Dan Mullen says all those players might have transferred anyway, and he's right. Disgruntled players leave programs every year. Offseason attrition is one reason Florida State's offensive line has crumbled.

But end-of-the-year departures give coaches time to prepare before the next season. They can fill specific holes through game-ready junior-college recruits or graduate transfers.

They can't do that during the season. Fixes must come internally.

At Clemson, that means the backup quarterback will be Chase Brice, a redshirt freshman with eight career passing attempts. The No. 3 option is likely true freshman Ben Batson, a former walkon who was expected to become a safety. That's not encouraging for an undefeated team hoping to compete for another playoff spot.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had three options to avoid the situation he finds himself in with a game against Syracuse on Saturday.

He could have kept Bryant as the starter (a poor choice because Lawrence is more talented). He offered to keep Bryant on the bench to preserve his redshirt; Bryant declined. He could have started Bryant one more week, burned his redshirt, then benched him.

"I don't think that's right, either," Swinney said. "I think at the end of the day, you just do what's right or what you believe is right, and then y'all live with it."

If Bryant, Nance and the other seniors stay on track to graduate, they will be eligible at their new schools next year because of the Kovalcheck loophole, but others must sit out a year unless they receive an NCAA waiver.

How many four-game transfers will be playing at the start of next season? How will that affect next year's wave?

Will more schools postpone personnel decisions until midseason to keep a player from leaving? What are the unintended consequences of this unintended consequence? Notre Dame and Alabama, among others, have multiple talented quarterbacks. Will one of them be next?

"I'm sure there may be more that's coming down the road for other programs," Swinney said.

Swinney's now-former quarterback is one of the first big names to become a four-game transfer. But like Kovalcheck a dozen years ago, Bryant won't be the last.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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