Last year, facing a sudden shortage at experienced quarterbacks with the early departure of Mitchell Trubisky, UNC coach Larry Fedora sought out a graduate transfer with experience playing high-level college football. He was able to convince this quarterback to come to Carolina, and the hope was high that he would work as a one-year solution while the young quarterbacks took a year to learn Fedora’s system.
Unfortunately, we all know how the Brandon Harris Experience went for Carolina last year. While most thought Fedora was being his usual cagey self when he was slow to name Harris as the starter, it unfortunately foretold an issue the grad transfer would have all season to fully grasp the system. The position could never stay settled and last season went down in flames pretty quickly.
This year, another grad transfer has suddenly become available and word is Carolina is on his list of schools he’s considering. Any doubt about that was quashed this past weekend as Kelly Bryant was very visible in his visit to Kenan Stadium, and even took time to talk to Inside Carolina ($).
You’ll need premium access in order to read, but it’s a good read and makes clear that UNC fans should consider themselves at least a high contender to land Bryant. Reportedly, he’s also considering Louisville, Missouri, and Arkansas, and a lot can change between now and when he decides.
Carolina fans should absolutely want Bryant to come to Chapel Hill. I was in this camp as soon as the former Clemson quarterback announced he was going to leave, but this past weekend had a lot more fans jump on this train. If you aren’t on it, you should be. Let me explain why.
Uncertainty at Quarterback
I’ll admit, the argument would be harder to make had Cade Fortin been able to finish his first start. The freshman looked good, easily the best a quarterback has looked all season for the Tar Heels. It was good enough to where you could live with the growing pains he would have the rest of the year knowing he’d have another spring to work on them and seize control.
With his injury and the fact that he is out for the year, that is all thrown out of flux. The Tar Heels don’t have a committed quarterback coming in next year, and by now we all know that Nathan Elliott just isn’t the solution. With Chazz Surratt’s injury, there’s a real thought that he may have played his last game as a Tar Heel. His career just never getting off the ground as it should have thanks to the quick way he was thrown into the fire. That just leaves Jace Ruder, an unknown commodity who was a four-star prospect last year, and Fortin as serious options to come back next year.
Fortin’s ACL tear should scare the daylights out of anyone hoping he returns to center next year, and the fact that Fortin got the nod over Ruder also casts some doubt at Ruder’s ability to play in the short term. That’s not a good prospect going into what would be a make-or-break year for Fedora should he survive...or even if he doesn’t.
In Bryant, you get a multi-year starter who learned under Deshaun Watson, played in the College Football Playoffs, and in 2017 threw for 2,802 yards, ran for 665, scored 24 touchdowns total (13 air, 11 ground), and was only picked off eight times. This is not Brandon Harris, this is someone who has confidence in how he plays the position and would give the 2019 coaches a year to let Fortin and Ruder learn the system.
One of the things that has never been talked about with the departures after 2016: a lot of “winning” experience left the team. The players that left after that season had played, at minimum, for a 2014, 15, and 16 season that saw Carolina at minimum make a bowl game and came back multiple times from bad scenarios. From the one loss regular season in 2015, the FSU and Pitt wins in 2016, and three straight bowl trips, players had gotten used to winning. It’s a mentality built in the program and created a confidence that they weren’t out of a game until the final gun. Even the Sun Bowl ended with Carolina trying to force overtime after a horrid game overall.
Trubisky, Howard, Switzer, Logan, Hollins, Hood...the program has not recovered from their loss, and the players left behind now have two losing seasons of experience where getting over the hump has been one of the more difficult things they’ve tried to do. This was a continual problem last year and it reared its ugly head again on Saturday as the offense couldn’t make one or two more plays to convert on their chances. It’s something you can’t quantify, but if a team has players who exude confidence that they will win, they will usually find that extra gear to make that extra play needed.
Bryant brings that mentality to the team. Clemson’s only loss in the 2017 regular season was a game that Bryant was knocked out of. He’s been to Blacksburg and won easily. He easily beat Miami in the ACC Championship to seal their spot in the College Football Playoff. He’s been to the College Football Playoff.
Carolina is going to return some talent on offense next year no matter who leads them. Michael Carter, Antonio Williams, Jordon Brown, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Toe Groves, Dazz Newsome, and Carl Tucker are all going to be seniors or younger in 2019. We’ve seen what they can do when given a chance to shine, and having a quarterback with the experience of a Bryant to lead them can help bring out that last step they need.
Familiarity With Opponents
This is not a small thing. Take a gander at who’s on UNC’s schedule next year:
2019 UNC Opponents
|8/31||SC (in Charlotte)|
|TBA||@ Georgia Tech|
|TBA||@ NC State|
South Carolina, Wake Forest, Miami, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State, and Clemson. Bryant has played six of the twelve opponents on Carolina’s schedule, and of course he should have some fairly intimate knowledge of Clemson when they come to Chapel Hill. Not only that, but he’s played SC as a rival game, Georgia Tech is their cross-division rival, and he’s played in both Blacksburg and Raleigh.
He’s won every single one of those games against those six opponents.
That schedule may also be a big reason why Carolina would be so appealing for Bryant. It’s always a taller task to come into a new program and learn new players and a new system, even if the system is going to be pretty similar to what you are used to. Having the comfort level to have already scouted over half of your opponents has to be an appealing prospect.
This also goes back to the winning attitude above: the man in the huddle will be able to stare across the line and know he’s beaten that uniform before, and that confidence can carry down to everyone else on the field. That knowledge will also be valuable for Ruder and Fortin while they take a year to learn under Bryant.
2019 is the first year of the ACC Network and giving Carolina a name that is known across the conference and nationally would be huge for a multitude of reasons. You see the slate above, there are several big names that would draw great time slots for the Tar Heels during the year. There’s very little doubt that the Miami and Clemson home games would be, at minimum, in the late afternoon.
Specifically, that UNC-Clemson game has the potential bring national buzz that the Tar Heels just frankly have not around a game in Chapel Hill in a long time. Could it draw a later start that would bring College Gameday? Would it bring the ESPN crews to Chapel Hill to follow the football team around for a week? At minimum it could create the best game day atmosphere in Kenan in ages.
All of these things matter. Should Fedora return, a year like that can stabilize the program, bring in a solid class, and restore the luster that is quickly fading from the program. If it’s a new coach? Then what better way to show off his new skills to recruits than all of these prime opportunities the schedule will afford them? It can be argued no other program needs Bryant more right now, and no other program would afford him with the same opportunity to get back on the national stage at the level he was before this season.
So, jump on the train and let’s hope Bryant is wearing Carolina Blue next season. As you can see, 2019 can be a completely different season if he is on board.