Let the redshirts play ball

One gigantic rule change was recently approved for college football, and another may soon be on the way.
It was announced a couple weeks ago that college football now has an early signing period, three days only from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22, a 72-hour time slot where high school seniors, if they’re ready, if they’re 100 percent certain, can officially sign their name on the dotted line to a letter of intent.
If you recall, February has always been the signing date, and that will still be in effect. But now, this “Christmas Eve” three day run and all the news heading up to it will certainly take my mind off of sugar plums, mistletoe and (thankfully) last-minute shopping.
Is it just a coincidence that it falls during the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the time of year when everyone needs a quick pick-me-up?
What this means, and it’s huge for the Huskers, is that schools can now pay for official visits in the spring, when Nebraska’s spring game is played. Get them there for that, the theory goes, and recruiting gets a whole lot easier.
 The second major rule change is far from a done deal, but at least it’s in the discussion. The brand new Division 1 Football Competition Committee was scheduled to talk Tuesday of this week about allowing incoming freshmen the opportunity to play in up to four games (including bowl games) and not, I repeat not, burn their redshirt year.
This would be huge.
Former Husker assistsant football coach Shane Thorell from Aurora said from a coach’s point of view, it allows them to get some of those freshmen playing time early in the season, to find out if some are ready, and if some aren’t.
“If they think they’re good enough,” he said, “ they could play the first few games and then they realize maybe they’re not ready, that maybe they should redshirt, and some kids may come in wanting to play and it just takes them half of the season to learn the system and be ready to go in and play. Then maybe they can play the last half of the season.”
He also mentioned that injuries come into play here as well.
“I talked to Scott Downing (former Husker assistant coach from 1984 to 2005), a good friend of mine who’s with Turner Gill at Liberty, and the one thing he mentioned was if you have a starter who gets hurt, and during the game the doctors say it looks serious, so you put a freshman in to play, and then a week later the injury isn’t that bad, and then you burned a redshirt. So if the freshman gets a little experience, he doesn’t lose a whole year.”
Shane also said it will allow coaches to play a few of those first-year players during a blowout, get them in and see how they respond during live action.
Imagine if the rule was already passed, and Aurora’s Todd Honas this past season or Austin Allen this coming fall could get their feet wet in four games without losing a year of eligibility. That scenario, played out for the entire freshmen class, would not only help each individual player develop more rapidly, but imagine how that would impact the team the following season. A chance to grow and get stronger that first season combined with a little bit of playing time would elevate the entire team, and as a result, elevate college football collectively.
If the Competition Committee gives its approval, then the motion would continue on to Division 1’s Football Oversight Committee, which could then formally sponsor the rule to the Division 1 Council, a possibility on a vote then in January at the annual NCAA convention.
“Another thing that has been talked about,” Shane added, “and Scott brought it up, is that this may be the next step to five years of eligibility. No redshirt. A kid can play five years. Evidently there is some talk about that.
“I would think that would help teams like Nebraska that recruits walk-ons and maybe some don’t develop until that third or fourth year. The rules have changed so much back when Coach Osborne was coaching. You had a separate freshman program and you have 50 to 60 walk-ons a year, and you practice separately. And then you had a five game schedule, then the next year everybody redshirted. So basically Tom was getting all of those kids for five years.”
It’s obvious to think back to the 2016 Husker season and what Patrick O’Brien could have done against Tennessee without burning his freshman season, or having Matt Farniok and Boe Wilson up front on the banged up offensive line; or having a speedy JD Spielman get to the edge.
But again there is a bigger picture here. If the redshirt rule does become reality, then how will coaches manage more players, and against what teams? Would Mike Riley play any of the redshirts against an Arkansas State, or would he hold them all back and save them for the Ohio States and Wisconsins?
Would he make sure they’re all eligible for the bowl game so each one gives maximum effort during December practices?
Obviously there’s a lot to consider, but with more and more star players excusing themselves from bowl games in fear of getting hurt before the NFL draft, it would certainly add a distinct flavor to all of the matchups in December and January.
Isn’t that what college football is all about?

DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at advertising@hamilton.net.

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