Kelly Bryant thought he found a comfortable spot for his final season of college football.
After an eight-win season in 2018, Missouri has a promising group of returning skill-position talent. Since the offense would be losing quarterback Drew Lock to the NFL, Bryant saw a great opportunity. He could make this fringe SEC contender a real threat.
But then the NCAA dropped its arbitrary hammer.
A one-year bowl ban is the main penalty levied for academic fraud committed by a former athletic department tutor. Barring a successful appeal―don't hold your breath―Missouri will not be eligible for postseason play in 2019.
No current players were involved, yet the punishment could've spelled disaster. Along with all seniors on the team, Bryant would be allowed to transfer freely and be eligible immediately.
However, per Matt Connolly of The State, the dual-threat quarterback decided he's going to stay in Columbia. Plus, Alex Schiffer of the Kansas City Star noted Missouri coach Barry Odom said no upperclassman has informed him of plans to leave.
For better or worse, the veterans are sticking out a difficult year.
And the Tigers might only need a couple of favorable bounces to become a national story during the 2019 season.
Bryant isn't an All-American-caliber quarterback or a stunning NFL prospect. But the only reason he lost a starting job at Clemson was the replacement, Trevor Lawrence, is both of those things. Bryant's versatility can shine in a similar system.
The Tigers return a 1,200-yard rusher in Larry Rountree III, and receiver Johnathon Johnson has consecutive 700-yard seasons. Jalen Knox and Kam Scott are emerging big-play threats, and Arkansas transfer Jonathan Nance bolsters the depth of the rotation. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam passed up the NFL but could've been a top prospect at his position.
Additionally, Missouri returns three starting offensive linemen, with left tackle Yasir Durant and All-SEC right guard Tre'Vour Wallace-Simms as foundational pieces.
This offense has high scoring potential.
Granted, the Tigers might need it. They're retooling the defensive front after the departures of Terry Beckner Jr. and Walter Palmore. Most of the secondary is back, but Missouri was tied for 92nd nationally in yards allowed per pass (7.7), with 24 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. That unit must improve significantly.
It sure is possible, though. Take a peek at the schedule. What you don't notice on the 2019 slate is important.
No Alabama. No Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State or Texas A&M in sight. The Tigers' crossover games with the SEC West are Ole Miss and Arkansas, who combined for one SEC victory last year.
Plus, five of Missouri's first six games are at home. The program is just 19-19 under Odom yet 13-8 in Columbia during that time.
If the Tigers can navigate a rebuilding West Virginia team, mid-tier SEC foes in South Carolina and Ole Miss and then Power Five killer Troy, they could start 6-0―maybe even 8-0. Road trips to Vanderbilt and Kentucky should be winnable games.
But don't take our word for it; none of Athlon, CBS Sports, ESPN or Sports Illustrated list any of Missouri's first eight opponents in an early Top 25. Breakout teams will emerge, but that's a favorable slate.
Unlikely? Sure. We're not predicting an 8-0 record for Missouri. But 6-2 heading into showdowns with Georgia and Florida wouldn't look so bad, either. Upsetting one of those teams could have a massive impact in the SEC East race, too.
Even if the NCAA penalties stand and Missouri is ineligible for a bowl, the AP poll can still feature the Tigers. Bryant has a legitimate chance to help the program earn a Top 15 ranking.
Bryant and his fellow seniors deciding to stay put could turn an unfortunate outlook for Missouri into a memorable season.
It just might end in November.