On Friday, I wrote about the quarterback conundrum at Alabama, and how Nick Saban plans to play Jalen Hurts through the Tide's copious amounts of garbage time despite the fact Alabama can easily win without him. Hurts played again on Saturday, completing all three of his passes for 28 yards as No. 1 Alabama cruised to a 45-23 win over Texas A&M.
That was significant, because it was Game 4 of Alabama's season. If -- and, really, when -- Hurts plays in another game this season, his junior year will be, for lack of a better term, burned. In the event Alabama's backup transfers to any of the plethora of schools that will be happy to start him in 2019, he will almost certainly do so as a senior instead of a junior, despite the fact Alabama would still be 4-0 without Hurts.
But enough about Alabama. There have been a number of developments along the New Redshirt Rule front this week.
On Monday, three different players announced they are utilizing the new redshirt rule to pull the plug on their respective seasons after Game 4: Oklahoma State wide receiver Jalen McCleskey, Oregon running back Taj Griffin and Arkansas wide receiver Jonathan Nance.
And now, another, more high-profile could potentially join them down the road.
In a move that was a long time coming but strategically timed for this exact moment, Clemson on Monday announced it has replaced starting quarterback Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence. This is the exact same dynamic as the Alabama quarterback room, except even more extreme: Unlike the junior Hurts, Bryant is a senior (and also the cousin of former Tigers wide receiver Martavis Bryant); unlike the sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, Lawrence is a true freshman. Hurts started Game 1 of his true freshman season and went 26-2 before losing his job; Bryant sat for two seasons behind Deshaun Watson, took Clemson to an ACC title and the College Football Playoff as a junior, and now loses his job to a younger player despite carrying a 16-2 record as a starter. Both players, though, are the ultimate example of the Good Soldier for their programs.
But now Clemson coaches have officially put the ball in his hands, and it would take an extreme event to take it out of them for as long as Lawrence wears orange and purple.
(For the record, this is the right decision from a football perspective. Both players have thrown a similar number of passes to date this year, but Lawrence's efficiency rating is 45 points higher. Bryant is a good college quarterback; Lawrence is a generational talent.)
Clemson is also four games into its season, meaning Bryant's career is hanging on a precipice. If he steps foot on the field again this year, his college career ends when Clemson's season does. But if he sits for the rest of this year, Bryant could transfer and start elsewhere in 2019.
As such, it's no coincidence Clemson's coaching staff made this announcement when they did and not a week later.
Dabo Swinney told reporters he had a long, emotional conversation with Bryant on Monday, during which the topic of transferring was on the table. And while Saban has said he has no indications of sitting Hurts in order to prolong his eligibility, Swinney indicated he would begrudgingly honor such a request should Bryant present one. Here's what he told The State:
“Certainly if (Bryant) walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly. I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”
This is a brand new frontier for Swinney, and indeed the entire coaching profession. If Lawrence is hurt (knock on wood) in the first quarter of Saturday's game against Syracuse, does Kelly go in? What if it's just a twisted ankle that will put Lawrence out a week or two? What if Lawrence goes down in the second quarter of the ACC Championship? What if it's the fourth quarter of the national championship game? The manual for handling this particular situation simply does not exist.
Every situation is different, and it's not fair to use Swinney's stated acceptance to cast Saban as the villain. Hurts will still have college eligibility in 2019 no matter how Saban handles him in 2018; Bryant, though, has no such guarantee.
Still, these are the ultimate crucibles for how the new redshirt rule will be handled for quarterbacks moving forward, and how Saban and Swinney handle their respective situations will create a precedent for every other head coach in the country.