Kelly Bryant

Missouri QB Kelly Bryant smiles as he trots into the endzone for a rushing touchdown in the first quarter of the match between the University of Missouri and Troy University on Saturday on Faurot Field.

Kelly Bryant rode into Columbia as a beacon of hope for Mizzou. After Drew Lock was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos, Mizzou found itself without the extraordinary QB who had called the shots for the past four seasons. Instead of crossing their fingers and hoping one of the underclassmen quarterbacks would develop into a capable starter, Mizzou brought in Bryant, an elite, battle-tested, championship caliber QB to fill the void as a graduate transfer.

Despite the infuriating postseason ban handed down by the NCAA (Mizzou’s appeal is still pending nearly eight months after the initial ruling), many expected Bryant to lead Mizzou to new heights. Those dreams were seemingly crushed after an unexpected Week 1 loss to Wyoming.

Bryant threw for 423 yards and 2 TDs, but the Tigers lost 37-31. Since then, coach Barry Odom has shored up his team’s defense and Mizzou (5-1, 2-0 SEC) has rattled off five consecutive victories. After dispatching Ole Miss 38-27 on Saturday, the Tigers entered the Top-25 rankings for the first time this season at No. 22 (AP).

Though Bryant’s numbers haven’t been as gaudy as they were in Week 1, he has been unflappable. He’s thrown for 1,575 yards and 12 TDs versus just four interceptions this season. He has also added 137 yards and one TD on the ground.

Bryant’s work on the offensive end has been bolstered by a strong rushing attack. Lead running back Larry Roundtree III stumbled to just 41 yards on 15 carries (2.7 yards per carry) in the loss to Wyoming. Since then, Roundtree is averaging nearly 5.9 yards per carry.

The Tigers defense has been extremely stout this season. The Mizzou defense is ranked No. 11in the nation, giving up just 15.8 points per contest. The unit has been especially stingy against the pass, allowing just 154.7 yards in the air each game. That is good for fourth-best in college football.

Some will point to the Tigers’ schedule strength, or lack thereof, to discredit the team’s success. While Southeast Missouri State and Troy represented easy wins, the team stood strong against SEC opponents Ole Miss and South Carolina. The same Gamecocks that the Tigers thrashed 34-14 managed to upset the (then-ranked) No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs.

With the Bulldogs team catching its first “L” of the season, people are now questioning whether the Tigers can capture the SEC East crown. That is partially dependent on the NCAA’s eternally-delayed decision on the aforementioned appeal. If the postseason ban is upheld, even if the Tigers win out for the rest of the season and remain undefeated in SEC play, the team will be ineligible to compete in the SEC championship game.

If the ban is overturned, or if the NCAA continues to drag its feet and fails to make a determination before the end of the season (a scenario which seems unlikely), Bryant and Co. could determine its own postseason destiny.

Currently, only two ranked teams sit on the Tigers’ remaining schedule: No. 10 Georgia and No. 9 Florida. Mizzou will face those two SEC powerhouse teams in back-to-back weeks Nov. 9 and Nov. 16. Beating both would be ideal, but winning just one of those games may be enough.

Georgia (5-1, 2-1 SEC) and Florida (6-1, 3-1 SEC) have still yet to play each other. That means one is guaranteed to take another loss in SEC play. In addition to Missouri and Florida, Georgia also has No. 11 Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC) on its remaining schedule. The ideal scenario for may be for Georgia to knock off Florida and then have Auburn incinerate the Bulldogs.

Winning out would eliminate all the crazy scenarios and make things easy, but let’s be real, when have things gone easy breezy and drama-free at Mizzou? Still, it’s great to dream big as a Tigers fan. The games are exciting. According to Rock Nation, the Tigers’ Memorial Stadium sellout versus Ole Miss was the team’s first since 2014.

Much of that excitement is due to graduate transfer under center. Through the first half of the season, Bryant has been as good as advertised. To navigate the Tigers through the tough SEC terrain in the second half of the season, he’ll have to be even better.

LeBron get skewered for Hong Kong comments

Houston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey tweeted about the protests inHong Kong and brought all the smoke from China. The swift fallout caused NBA players and executives to go full deafcon on all China/Hong Kong-related questions by the media. Reporters repeatedly asked about the situation that caused China to pull the NBA off state TV and Chinese companies to suspend partnerships with the league and several NBA teams. They just weren’t trying to hear it.

LeBron James

Fans in Hong Kong burned LeBron James’ jersey after the Lakers’ star spoke out about Houston Rockets’ GM Darryl Morey’s comments. James quickly changed his tune, saying “I will not talk about it again.”

Then on Monday, LeBron James, a player who has never been shy to speak his mind, decided to take the bait.

"I don't want to get into a word or sentence feud with Daryl Morey," James told reporters at a pre-game interview on Monday, "but I believe he wasn't educated on the situation at hand and he spoke."

While Morey’s comments brought smoke, James’ brought fire – literally. Protesters in Hong Kong did not appreciate James’ seeming support of the Chinese government and they began publicly burning his jersey.

James also received a severe backlash from media, politicians and fans for his comments. Like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, James quickly backtracked on his prior statement.

“Let me clear up the confusion. I do not believe there was any consideration for the consequences and ramifications of the tweet,” he tweeted.  “I’m not discussing the substance. Others can talk About that.”

When asked about it by reporters Tuesday after practice, James replied, “I will not talk about it again.”

Be sure to check In the Clutch online and also follow Ishmael on Twitter @ishcreates. 

Ishmael H. Sistrunk is a columnist and the website coordinator for the St. Louis American and www.stlamerican.com.

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