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Football Coaches Propose Allowing Redshirts to Play In Four Games

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Patrick O’Brien might have been able to help Nebraska last season after Tommy Armstrong tore his hamstring against Minnesota.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports reports that the American Football Coaches Association is proposing that redshirting freshmen could play in up to four games during their redshirt season and still retain four more seasons of college eligiblity. The idea is to allow schools to supplement their rosters at the end of the season, especially if more NFL prospects decide to skip bowl games. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffery elected to sit out their bowl games rather than risk injury and hurt their status for the NFL draft.

Nebraska certainly could have taken advantage of this rule last season, as both Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fyfe battled injuries late in the season; Zack Darlington ended up finishing the Music City Bowl as the quarterback. But if not for injuries, would that be a good idea?

Assume that Tommy Armstrong hadn’t been injured, just for discussion purposes. With the bowl game, would Nebraska’s coaches been inclined to play Patrick O’Brien, who was redshirting? And if O’Brien had four games of eligibility available, would O’Brien have played earlier in the season - perhaps against Fresno State and Wyoming? Then, when Armstrong left the Minnesota game with his hamstring injury, how would Nebraska have possibly used O’Brien in the final three games, with just two games of eligibility?

If you make redshirting freshmen eligible for bowl games, do coaches have an incentive to turn the bowl game into an extension of spring practice to insert the young players into the game? It’s easy to see the benefit when NFL prospects like Fournette or injured players like Armstrong are sitting, but what about coaches looking ahead to the future?

In 1991, Bill McCartney decided to scrap his “I-Bone” offense in favor of a pro-style attack for the Blockbuster Bowl against Alabama. It didn’t go so well, as Darian Hagan struggled to complete just 11 of 30 passes, though they were able to complete a handful of big plays to keep the game close. Certainly that approach would be used by more schools if they could take advantage of an influx of redshirt players for the bowl game. But the flip side are the seniors who see the culmination of their career turned into essentially a training camp for the next season. Is it fair to send them out like that?

Lots of questions that need to be considered, as this proposal contains a lot of potential for unintended consequences. For example, what happens when Kirk Ferentz tries to argue that since a Hawkeyes barely played in three games, they shouldn’t really count.