The Maneater

Commentary: Landing Bryant a culmination and beginning for Odom

Kelly Bryant comes to Missouri as a former 2000-yard passer, national champion and likely key to success in the SEC.

Former Clemson quarterback and incoming Missouri graduate transfer Kelly Bryant looks into the stands of Memorial Stadium before the Tigers' game against Kentucky on Oct. 27, 2018. Bryant, who's expected to be Drew Lock's successor, compiled over 3,000 passing yards at Clemson.

Kelly Bryant could have chosen to go anywhere. If he had the talent to play at Clemson – to lead Clemson to the College Football Playoff – he had the country in his hands. And he chose Missouri.

Bryant has made it official. The Clemson transfer is changing the color of his tiger stripes, announcing Tuesday he’ll don the black and gold and play for MU in his final season of eligibility. He is Missouri’s biggest get since Barry Odom took over head coaching duties in 2015, and perhaps the biggest get by any MU sport since Michael Porter Jr.

While the prospective Mizzou quarterback (yes, believe it, Mizzou quarterback) brings the physical tools and statistical history to be a successful quarterback in the SEC, he brings even more to the Missouri football program. Most noticeably, his signing solidifies Missouri’s place as a legitimate top-25 team. Or at least the appearance of legitimacy.

Sure, the growth of the program has been apparent since Odom took over three years ago. Five wins in year one have budded to an 8-4 regular season finish this season. But it’s been clear that a lot of Odom’s small successes have felt questionable within a wider scope. Things have felt on edge as recently as this season, when Odom’s job security was briefly questioned after blowing a win over ranked Kentucky team on the final play of the game. However, after that, Odom took his wins where he could get them, both metaphorically and literally.

He went on the road the next week and his unranked Missouri team beat No. 10 Florida 38-17. That kicked off a four-game win streak to end the season, with the cherry on top being a 38-0 win over Arkansas. And, for the first time in maybe his first three seasons, Odom did something in more ways than one that he’d yet to do: prove himself. First with the Florida win and then with a new first.

Missouri found itself at No. 24 in the AP Poll and No. 23 in the CFB Playoff rankings to end the regular season. It marks the first time Missouri’s been ranked in the AP Poll, or ranked at all, since 2015.

Even if all that hasn’t proved to anyone and everyone that Odom is turning the tide, it’s clearly proved it enough for Bryant.

That brings up another legitimate question derived from Odom’s success: How much of it has come from the shoulders, rather arm, of Drew Lock?

Lock’s abnormally large statlines have led Odom’s teams to big wins and his deep bombs propelled targets like Emanuel Hall and Albert Okwuegbunam to significant success. Granted, both Hall and Albert O are talents at their respective positions, but one has to wonder just how rapidly they would have found success without Lock. The beautiful thing is that Bryant’s signing essentially throws that question out the window.

With Bryant, there’s no wondering and there’s no uncertainty at quarterback. He’s never going to be what Lock was for several reasons, but Bryant’s talent is substantially closer to Lock’s than that of the depth chart’s back end.

This is also the college equivalent of a flashy free agent signing; a splash that puts the spotlight on the program. Rather, it keeps the spotlight on a program that’s losing its face in the coming month, giving it a new one for the coming year.

In terms of transfers, Bryant is five-star recruit. A five-star recruit with experience. After criticism for failing to recruit the St. Louis area, this is a milestone that, on paper at the very least, shows Odom is capable of grabbing a big name to play for him.

Even greater than that, it allows Odom to continue building his Missouri program without a hitch. Theoretically, having a senior quarterback of Bryant’s stature allows the Tigers – a team that was “a couple snaps away from being 10-2,” as athletic director Jim Sterk put it to media on Sunday – to continue ascending the ranks of college football and the SEC.

Sterk told media on Sunday when he was in Atlanta last weekend, a Georgia fan approached him and told him frankly: “You know, if you were still in the Big 12, you’d be playing in a championship game today.”

Bryant might – might – bring the ability to make that dream a possibility in the SEC.

If the Tigers can ring in the new year with a Liberty Bowl win, they’ll likely finish the season ranked and poised to push themselves into the middle tier of top-25 and upper tier of the SEC in 2019.

Aside from matchups with South Carolina, Kentucky and West Virginia, Missouri doesn’t look to have many unfavorable matchups until it plays Georgia in week nine. It’s hard to believe Missouri wouldn’t be, at its absolute worst, 5-3 heading into that game. It’s not unreasonable to imagine it could be 8-0 if it played its cards right; five consecutive home games can get teams off to a hot start.

The bar is set higher for Odom’s team now than ever, and it’s only more likely the bar will be reached with Bryant leading the offense.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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