Why NCAA's new redshirt rule will bring game-changing mindset to Big 12's coaches and player
Baylor coach Matt Rhule got the attention of his freshmen recently with a quick primer on the new NCAA football redshirt rule.
"I told a bunch of freshmen the other day, 'For the first time in college football history, you guys know you're going to play in a game this year. Even if you redshirt, you're going into a game at some point this year,'" Rhule recalled at Big 12 media days.
"To me, that changes your preparation. That changes your mind-set. When you know you're going to play, there's a whole 'nother level of pressure."
Throughout the Big 12 and across the FBS, the change in the redshirt rule will be a major storyline this year.
Now, players who participate in four or fewer games can redshirt, regardless of when those games occurred. In the past, players would be forced into the lineup late in a season and lose a full season of eligibility, like Baylor quarterback Nick Florence in 2011 and West Virginia running back Martell Pettaway in 2016, among others.
In a world of 85 scholarships and late-season injuries, the redshirt rule change represents a lifeline to coaches.
Texas coach Tom Herman admitted he would have loved the new redshirt rule last season, when the Longhorns were minus eight key players for the Texas Bowl because of injuries, suspensions and NFL draft considerations.
"We got into some dicey situations last year in the [College Football Playoff] where an injury here or there [and] we would have had to pull a redshirt on a guy," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. "So it takes that out of the equation, which is good."
The concept had floated around for years with the American Football Coaches Association leading the push.
TCU's Gary Patterson, a member of the AFCA board and a rule change advocate, said that coaches will have to adapt.
"Because of health reasons, it's going to give us a lot more depth in a year where guys can play four games," Patterson said. "But you're going to have to have a good plan starting in fall camp. What can a guy do? How does he do it? No one is outside the realm of possibility.
"You're probably going to give your freshmen more reps than what you've normally given them in scrimmages."
One theory is that coaches may play freshmen early, to better evaluate and see if there is a budding star on the roster.
"I'm interested in winning the first few games," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who faces high expectations this season and early games with Tennessee and North Carolina State. "I'm not going to put a kid out there and hope he's ready. I just think every kid is going to be in a different situation and every team is going to have different scenarios where they use that rule."
Coaches agree that incoming freshmen will be more involved by necessity.
Players who are earmarked to redshirt have a tendency to drift away from the core group, coaches have noticed, especially with game action not part of the plan.
Now, they need to be ready.
Playing time can be a great incentive.
"I think it will boost their morale," Rhule said. "I remember the first time I got in at Penn State. I got in for like eight plays at the end of the game against Temple.
"I thought I was Lawrence Taylor walking off that field. All that work, all that stuff was finally worth it."