Clemson QB Kelly Bryant to start: Three things to know about Watson's replacement

It's never easy to follow a legend, but Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant will do his best to keep Clemson atop the college football world in 2017.

The junior from Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, was named the starting quarterback of the defending national champions on Monday night by coach Dabo Swinney. He will try to fill the shoes of Deshaun Watson, who left after his junior season after leading the Tigers to their first national title since 1981.

Bryant beat out redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and true freshman early enrollee Hunter Johnson for the top spot on the depth chart. 

"Kelly Bryant is the starter," Swinney said, according to a statement from the school. "He has earned it and I am proud of him. It has been a great competition, but this part is over. Zerrick Cooper is the No. 2 quarterback, but Hunter Johnson is right there. We hope to get all three quarterbacks experience in the first part of the season."

Here are three things to know about Clemson's new quarterback.

1. Experience counts, but it's hardly the primary factor: Generally, when you have a junior squaring off against two signal-callers with literally zero experience at the college level, veteran status counts for something. That's not really the case with Bryant, though. He's 13-for-18 passing for 75 yards with one touchdown and one interception during his two years with the Tigers, adding 178 yards and three scores on the ground. His 156 rushing yards in 2015 made him the fifth-leading rusher for a Tiger team that played for a national title.

That was primarily as the No. 3 quarterback behind Watson and the recently-departed Nick Schussler. He had a head start on learning the offense, but Bryant steadily built a lead over the youngsters during the offseason and never even allowed a glimmer of hope of giving up a job that he earned based on his play over the last eight months.

Monday's announcement brings a conclusion to a battle that had been trending in this direction.

"As long as Kelly Bryant does not go backwards, he will be the starter in the opener," Swinney said last week. "But every practice and every play will be evaluated between now and Sept. 2. Then he has to perform on game day. He must continue his consistency."

2. He fits the system: The former three-star quarterback in the class of 2015 was ranked 13th among dual-threat quarterbacks in his recruiting class. He's similar to Watson in stature. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is tall enough to see over the line of scrimmage and open up the middle of the field on short and intermediate routes. Like Watson, he's quick enough to make defenders miss in space, but he also has the durability to take the punishment that goes along with being a dual-threat quarterback for a major college football program.

Is he as refined as Watson? Of course not. Watson will go down as one of -- if not the -- best player in program history. But Bryant's style of play will allow the offense to seamlessly transition to a new starting quarterback without changing much.

3. He won't be asked to do much: Clemson returns wide receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow, and it has a potential stud in the 6-foot-4 Tee Higgins. There's also running backs Tavien Feaster, C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice, and one of the best offensive lines in the entire county. Big plays in scrimmages ultimately earned him the starting nod, but taking care of the football will keep him atop the depth chart as long as he relies on the weapons around him.

If he evolves into a difference-maker, that's fine. But when you combine Clemson's offensive weapons with one of the best defensive lines in the game, you can expect a more conservative approach from Swinney and Co. early.

No. 5 Clemson opens its title defense Sept. 2 at home against Kent State. It hosts No. 12 Auburn in a key nonconference game in Week 2 of the 2017 season. 

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, while also hosting on ESPNU on SiriusXM Radio channel 84, the... Full Bio

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