CLEMSON — After being coy all summer about who would be Clemson's starting quarterback, Dabo Swinney announced on Monday what most people expected.
Kelly Bryant, the senior who led the Tigers to a 12-2 record last season, will start for Clemson on Saturday when it opens the season against Furman. He won the job over freshman Trevor Lawrence.
It was a combination of Bryant's leadership in the locker room, his noticeable improvement in the down-field passing game, his commanding management of Clemson's system and perhaps his all-time high confidence that proved to make the difference.
The Tigers have rallied around Bryant during practice as many of them consider him their leader. Now he will be — at least for Week 1.
"It's always good to hear from your coaches first-hand, but I just carried the same approach as if I was the starter and now, it's about performing Saturday," Bryant said. "Nothing's set in stone. This is just for the first game. So now I've got to go out there and perform.
"Last year's stats and whatever don't carry over. That's what I've known all my life."
Indeed, Bryant is fully aware that just because he won the job for Game 1 does not mean Lawrence won’t play early and often, and it does not mean Lawrence couldn’t usurp Bryant at any moment this season. Clemson has already confirmed both will play Saturday against Furman and coaches have said on more than one occasion they are open to a dual-quarterback system.
Furman head coach Clay Hendrix said last week the Paladins have been preparing as if Bryant was going to start all along, but added he knew just preparing for Bryant was not going to cut it.
“I would be shocked if we don’t see Trevor Lawrence in the second or third series,” Hendrix said. “He’s a good athlete.”
Last season, Bryant replaced Clemson legend Deshaun Watson and the Tigers were right back in the College Football Playoff as a No. 1 seed under his leadership. Clemson's season ended with a loss to Alabama in a CFP semifinal game.
The senior from Calhoun Falls said just last week that he felt like he had done enough to state his case as the starter, which is why he was going to be at peace with whichever conclusion his coaches made. But he knows Lawrence was — and is — on his heels, something that will not change.
According to his teammates, Lawrence has a calmness about him that exudes confidence beyond his years, which might be just as important as his powerful arm.
"Any time you make a play on him, he'll just be like, 'Oh good play,'" defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. "He's like, 'Oh, great interception.' Like, what? It doesn't really make sense. But I guess it's just kind of his way of blocking it out."
Moving forward, it will be Bryant's job to prove to coaches he deserves to keep the starting role. It will be Lawrence's to push for it. But Bryant, who has been through this before, feels ready.
"Those guys went and battled and Kelly knew what was at stake," Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "He responded the right way."
That earned him the starting job. Now he'll fight to hang onto it.
Other depth chart notes
• Sophomore Travis Etienne — not junior Tavien Feaster — has earned the starting spot at running back. In fact, Feaster is third on the depth chart behind Adam Choice, who comes in second.
• A.J. Terrell has earned a starting cornerback spot over Mark Fields for Week 1, alongside Trayvon Mullen.
• Clemson is not quite ready to name a starting tight end. Milan Richard and Garrett Williams will still battle it out this week in practice.
• Back from an ACL tear, Greg Huegel has won the kicking battle.
• Fort Dorchester High School product John Simpson is starting for the first time of his college career at left guard.