Jimbo Fisher and Florida State fans might remember the sequence all too well.
During FSU’s loss to Houston in the 2015 Peach Bowl after quarterback Sean Maguire temporarily left the game with a fractured ankle, Fisher was posed with a unique challenge to replace his starter.
Transfer Everett Golson left the team after losing the starting job and highly touted prospect Deondre Francois was on the sideline for the final game of his true freshman year, Fisher’s only options were to burn Francois’ redshirt season or turn to inexperienced backup J.J. Cosentino and walk-on Lucas Clark in the final game of the season.
Fisher never saw inserting Francois into the game, costing him a season of eligibility in exchange for playing just one game, as a viable option.
But a new college football rule could allow redshirt freshmen to participate in four games during their first year on campus without surrendering a year of eligibility.
Coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference are in favor of the rule, first proposed by the American Football Coaches Association in Phoenix in early May. The rule might not go into effect until early 2018, but coaches see many significant benefits to the idea.
Fisher, who was the ACC football coaches’ chairman during this week’s ACC spring meetings, believes amending the redshirt rule to allow players to compete in four games can help improve player safety.
With now-NFL first round draft picks Leonard Fournette from LSU and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey deciding to skip their bowl games last season to preserve their health, coaches feel players who decide to go that route can be replaced by younger teammates instead of giving another player a greater workload.
With teams like Clemson and Alabama chasing national championships, playing conference title games and two playoff games bringing the season total to 15 games, there is a burden placed on teams to protect players’ health.
A freshman who has gained experience practicing with the team all season could learn from limited playing time and help provide relief for veteran players in during a long season.
“I think for player safety, it’s a good rule,” Fisher said on Tuesday. “If a guy has developed and is ready to play — he might not have been ready to play early — and all of a sudden you’ve had some injuries. Those last four games, whether he’s on special teams or he incorporates himself into some playing time or has matured, I think it’s a significant thing to do.”
Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi had to make a tough decision last season that didn’t work out well for one of his rookies. Four-star cornerback Damar Hamlin — Narduzzi’s highest rated freshman recruit — made his season debut against Clemson in November.
After being injured in summer camp and regaining his form, Hamilin ultimately re-injured himself while helping the Panthers beat the Tigers last season.
“He played one game and used up his redshirt year,” Narduzzi said. “Damar is a great kid, but … it’s a tragedy for that kid.
Along with player welfare, length of the season and further player development, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney believes the redshirt rule will keep players more engaged during the season knowing there is an opportunity or reward to play instead of just sitting out the entire season.
In all, the ACC coaches agree there are far more positives that would go with a rule change than negatives.
“I don’t really see a negative at all — I really don’t,” said Swinney, winner of last season’s national championship. “All the coaches love it.”