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(Nate Gettleman)
Is Georgia QB Justin Fields (1) more likely redshirt in 2018 following a change in NCAA rules?

How will Georgia use NCAA’s new redshirt rule to its advantage?

Cy Brown

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Redshirt rule makes roster management trickier — and more interesting

On Wednesday, the NCAA announced the approval of a pair of rule changes that will benefit players and create a set of new and interesting roster-management decisions for college football coaches to deal with.

One rule eliminates the requirement that transferring players receive permission from their head coach to contact other schools, a process that essentially allowed coaches to block players from transferring to certain schools. (Conferences are still allowed to implement the “permission-to-contact” process, however.) The other rule allows players to play in as many as four games while still retaining redshirt eligibility. Both rules only affect DI football and both go into effect this season.

These rules upend the established dynamics of college football. Either I or someone else at DawgNation will get into the implications of the new transfer rule in the near future. But today I want to focus on the redshirt rule because it will have an immediate and drastic influence on the upcoming season.

This is a whole new ballgame, people. And it’s exciting because we genuinely have no idea how coaches are going to handle this change. With four games to play with per player — and it’s now any four games at any time in the season — there are all kinds of strategies a coach can deploy to A) develop players more effectively, and B) exploit the change to give their team an advantage.

Here are three strategies I imagine coaches will use this season while the kinks of this new system are still being worked out:

  • The Ringer — What Nick Saban did with Tua Tagovailoa in the National Championship Game gave folks a lot of ideas. You’d have to have a really talented team already — that’s a check for Georgia — but it’s now feasible to stash a player until the final push of the season, bring them out in championship or bowl games without giving an opponent the benefit of game tape and still save a redshirt.
  • The Proving Ground — Most Power 5 teams schedule a few cupcakes early in the season, and those games can be used as a testing ground for freshmen. After a game or two, coaches can look at how each freshman is performing and decide whether the team would benefit more from them playing or gaining an extra year of eligibility, and if it’s the latter, save the redshirt’s final appearances for late-season blowouts and the bowl game.
  • The Reinforcements — If there are a few upperclassmen entrenched on the depth chart and thus leaving the freshmen behind them with no realistic chance to play, it might make sense to treat those players like “old” redshirts and sit them from the jump. Then if one of those upperclassmen is injured, the freshman can slot in for a game — or four — and still hold onto his redshirt. And if you reach the latter stages of the season and the freshmen still haven’t seen the field, you can start working them in knowing they won’t pass the four-game threshold.

At Georgia, I expect Kirby Smart to play all of his freshman against Austin Peay and maybe Middle Tennessee State, then save any that aren’t surefire contributors in case they’re needed in an emergency, finally unleashing those with games left late in the season. So really it’s a combo of the three strategies, which is truthfully probably closer to the reality we’ll get across college football. The strategy will be tailored on a player-to-player basis.

The most extreme example of this for the Bulldogs is Justin Fields. A day ago, I would have said there is a zero-percent chance he redshirts, not with only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. I’m still leaning that way. But with four games to play with instead none, saving an extra year of eligibility seems feasible now. Do you hold him early in case Fromm has to sit a week or two with injury at some point, leaving open the window for a redshirt if Fields only has to play a couple games? Can you make it to a potential SEC Championship Game/College Football Playoff run without playing him and use him as a ringer in important games á la Tagovailoa? Do you ignore the idea of a redshirt altogether because he might be gone in three or four regardless? Smart’s head must be swimming right now.

But that’s why this is all so exciting. For once, the NCAA did something (marginally) good, doing something to help the players while simultaneously adding an interesting twist to roster management. It’ll be fascinating to see how this plays out in Athens and across the country.

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More unpopular UGA opinions

I got a great response to my post Wednesday on your unpopular opinions about Georgia sports. (People strongly disagreed with my opinion that Georgia would be better if Jacob Eason was still the quarterback. I know! Shocker!) Here are some more unpopular opinions I gathered from the comment section:

  • Georgia and Georgia Tech should play the first week of the season.
  • D.J. Shockley should have started over David Greene in 2002.
  • Georgia will not win a national championship under Smart, or anyone else for that matter.
  • Herschel Walker should have redshirted in 1980.

OK, I feel a lot better about my opinion after that last one.

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