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If anyone in college football has a legitimate reason to opt out of a bowl game, it is Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral.
After dealing with and playing on an ankle injury for much of the 2021 season, the junior star is projected to be a top 10 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. But he will start and play in the Sugar Bowl Saturday (8:45 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) for No. 8 Ole Miss (10-2) against No. 7 Baylor (11-2).
Meanwhile, players across the country with non-College Football Playoff bowl games on their team schedules and no injuries or as lofty draft status as Corral have been routinely opting out, which started out as a term for leaving a team because of legitimate COVID-19 concerns, but has become code for quitting.
LSU, for example, has had three players likely not to be drafted in the first two rounds opt out of the Texas Bowl on Jan. 4 – tailback Tyrion Davis-Price, linebacker Damone Clark and defensive tackle Neil Farrell Jr.
Clearly, the Texas Bowl is third tier to the Sugar Bowl’s top tier, but one gets the feeling Corral would have stuck with his team had the Rebels played in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“I mean, it was just my teammates,” Corral said recently. “I never questioned it. If I was one of them, and they had a quarterback in the same position, I just couldn’t live with what they would think of me. Like just leaving and just being like, ‘Alright, that was the last game,’ and nobody knowing that was the last game.”
Thanks, Matt. So refreshing to hear as college football becomes a traveling youth baseball league before our very eyes. Kids are transferring like they change socks. Another term for quitting is “entering the NCAA transfer portal,” which is trending across the fruited plain as much as omicron.
Former LSU starting quarterback Max Johnson, completely healthy with a chance as good or better at starting for LSU next season, transferred after the regular season to Texas A&M, where he likely will never start. If you want to transfer fine, but finish the season in the bowl with your teammates, who are sticking it out.
Then Myles Brennan flipped his transfer portal course into reverse and returned to LSU, but he is not interested in playing in the Texas Bowl. What? Will it conflict with another fishing trip?
Texas A&M starting quarterback Zach Calzada had entered the portal ahead of Johnson and is headed to Pittsburgh. He may have lost his starting job next season at A&M as he was playing for injured starter Haynes King, but you can’t wait until after the bowl? The Aggies were supposed to play in the Gator Bowl, but exited for legitimate COVID-19 concerns.
Johnson, Brennan, Calzada and many other portal people should watch Corral play in the Sugar Bowl. They may learn something.
The NFL, by the way. needs to also keep track of these quitters as closely as they chart how they all look in shorts at the NFL Combine. Character is important to NFL teams.
In defense of the LSU players, their new coach, Brian Kelly, also opted out of the bowl. Many new coaches are doing that these days because of the early signing date and the focus on hiring staff. But they’re still quitting. In the recent past, coaches would coach their new team while recruiting and hiring staff. And it’s not like LSU’s bowl was coming up quick on Kelly, who was hired on Nov. 30. LSU’s bowl is not until Jan. 4. He had plenty of time to multi-task.
At least Corral has the right idea.
“The only reason why I say this is because no one really understands how close we really are,” Corral said of his teammates, a group forgotten by draft hopefuls and transfers.
Don’t believe all the fancy explanations that are merely excuses. There is plenty of time between now and the NFL Draft on April 28. That’s almost four months – plenty of enough time for newly transferred players to enter the portal again and again.
“It just would’ve been the wrong thing to do,” Corral said. “Just not playing and just holding out on them.”
Corral may reinjure or aggravate his ankle, but he doesn’t care. He cares about his teammates. And the NFL should look at that.
He’s not alone on the Ole Miss roster either. There have been no opt-outs, which is a credit to coach Lane Kiffin.
“I think it’s awesome, especially since we didn’t have a conversation,” Kiffin said last week. “It’s not like someone came in wavering, and we had to talk them out of it, or go over the pros and cons. It says a lot about this team. It says the culture has been created here. That was really cool to see – to not have to deal with that. A lot of that has to do with the culture and the players that you have. “
Corral set the standard.
“I think when your quarterback would be the most obvious opt-out, and he never even thinks about it, and the players know that, and he’s played through injuries when he could have not played in games, it starts at the top (at quarterback),” Kiffin said. “So, I think our culture’s come a long ways.”
And LSU, on the opposite end of the spectrum and bowl pecking order, badly needs to get its culture improved likewise if it is going to win again soon after a fall to an embarrassing 11-11 after a 15-0 national championship season in 2019-20, which now seems to be spelling f-l-u-k-e more clearly than d-y-n-a-s-t-y.
“You look back a year ago, and I think we had a few opt-outs,” said Kiffin, whose team went 5-5 last year. “So, things have changed.”