ACC Championship Football (copy) (copy)

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney talks to quarterback Kelly Bryant during a game last season. Bryant was the starting quarterback for four games, but left the team after being demoted to second string. File/Bob Leverone/AP

CLEMSON — The comment dropped into cyberspace late Wednesday night, sure to power the following morning's news cycle. And that it did.

"He wasn't on the team. You've got to be on a team to get a ring," Swinney told ESPN. "I love Kelly and appreciate what he did for us, but he decided to move on."

Cue the army of talking heads, former players and social media personalities:

Was Swinney right?



Did Kelly Bryant — the former Clemson quarterback who abruptly left the team four games into the season after losing the starting job to then-freshman Trevor Lawrence, calling the demotion a "slap in the face" — deserve a national championship ring?

Before the masses could reach a consensus, Swinney weighed in on the matter again Thursday afternoon as the Tigers wrapped up practice. 

"There's nothing else to comment on," Swinney said. "I mean, what do you want me to say? He wasn't on the team. Simple as that. We played 11 games after he left."

Bryant's exit made way for Lawrence's rise. Soon the Cartersville, Ga., product was the talk of college football, and his profile only expanded when he led Clemson past Alabama, 44-16, in the national title game, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. 

Now Lawrence, a sophomore, is an early Heisman Trophy candidate and the face of the sport. Clemson on Aug. 11 is hosting its annual fan day, where the team's supporters can meet and mingle with their heroes, and Swinney expects Lawrence to attract a lot of attention.

"Trevor's taking a lot of pressure off me," Swinney said. "I got a feeling Trevor is going to have a huge line. I might have some more chit-chat time in my line this year."

Lawrence's predecessor transferred to Missouri in search of a fresh start and one last chance to solidify his college resume. He survived an injury scare this week, returning to the practice field Wednesday after getting carted off Monday following a slip that hurt his hamstring. 

As it stands now, he'll be ready when Missouri opens the season Aug. 31 at Wyoming. Bryant went 16-2 as a starter at Clemson, leading the team to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2017, and Swinney said he hopes Bryant has "great success at Missouri."

But in a period of the year largely bereft of meaningful or juicy or heartwarming story lines, Swinney's comments caught fire. He stood by his original statement Thursday. 

"I love Kelly," Swinney said. "Got to be on the team (to get a ring). Certainly could've been here, but he wasn't. That's the way it is."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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