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Four-game redshirt rule creates intrigue

A bit of a bombshell dropped in the college football world Monday when Houston’s standout senior quarterback, D’Eriq King, announced he was ending his season so that he could use this as a redshirt year.

King has played in four games this season — Houston is just 1-3 under new coach Dana Holgorsen — so the quarterback can still redshirt because of the NCAA’s new four-game policy that went into effect last year.

While King, who accounted for 50 touchdowns last season, said he plans to return to Houston for his senior year, there is heavy speculation he ultimately will enter the transfer portal. If he does, King would be one of the most sought-after players in the portal — a dynamic, playmaking quarterback with a wealth of experience, a la Russell Wilson during his one season at Wisconsin.

Rewind to one year ago this week, Clemson’s starting quarterback, Kelly Bryant, announced he would be transferring after losing his starting job to Trevor Lawrence. Bryant had gone 19-2 as a starter, but Lawrence was one of the most celebrated quarterback recruits in history, so coach Dabo Swinney made the switch, and Lawrence the Tigers to the national title.

Bryant had played in just four games last season, so he still could count it as a redshirt year. He wound up transferring to Missouri, which is off to a 3-1 start.

The King and Bryant stories may sound like highly unusual outliers at this point, but the reality is they are precedent setters that could signal the beginning of a big change in college football.

The four-game redshirt policy was designed to provide coaches with an opportunity to give more guys and younger guys some experience without the risk of losing an entire year of eligibility.

But as the King and Bryant situations have shown, there are a lot of unexpected consequences to the new rule. Yes, coaches have the power to decide who plays just four games and then redshirts, but players also have gained a great deal of leverage in the process because they are able to maintain the year of eligibility and can do so elsewhere if they feel like they weren’t treated well at the current school.

Penn State plays its fourth game of the season Friday at Maryland, which means decision time for coach James Franklin and his staff. They must determine which players will see the field for the fourth and final time this season, thereby preserving the redshirt, which ones will keep playing the rest of the way and which ones may be held out and play their fourth game later in the year — such as the bowl game.

“We just had some discussions on some guys that we had played the first two games or three games, and we have to decide: Are we going to play in this fourth game or not?” Franklin said Tuesday.

“A lot of the guys, we’ve kind of held on that we’re going to save this fourth game for later in the year for injuries or whatever it may be, or they are just not ready and the coaches are not comfortable with putting them in in a tightly contested game at this point.”

Franklin also was asked if the four-game redshirt rule is good or bad for college football.

“The rule, I think there’s benefits to it for the players and I think there’s benefits for the program. There’s no doubt about that,” the coach said. “But I think with all these rule changes, there’s unforeseen consequences to it. A few years back, the NCAA was all about deregulation, deregulation, deregulation, and all those rules are in that book for a reason.”

The hard part, Franklin continued, is when things occur that could not have been foreseen by people who made the rules.

The King situation from Monday certainly would fall into that category.

“You make changes to rules that were in place for a reason, and there’s unforeseen consequences that probably aren’t thought about by everybody on the front end,” Franklin said. “So it’s hard to say whether (the rule is) good or bad.

“I think the intentions are all these rules are good for the student-athletes. I think all these intentions are good for college athletics. But it doesn’t always play out that way because it’s very sophisticated, it’s very complicated and it can be messy. And messy not in a good way for the student-athlete or college athletics.”

Here’s one example of how the four-game rule could impact Penn State:

The Lions are playing four running backs — Journey Brown, Ricky Slade, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford. Brown is the only one who already has redshirted. The other three can only play in one more game apiece and still be able to redshirt, so that could come into play with how the coaches use them starting next week.

On the flip side, if one of the running backs does appear in just four games and then redshirts, he would have that extra year of eligibility as leverage should he decide to enter the transfer portal.

As Franklin noted, there certainly are positive elements of the four-game rule, most notably it gets a young player some experience so that he learns what it takes to compete at this level.

“I do think the four games helped a whole lot because you can kind of get your feet wet and see what it’s like,” PSU cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields said. “And then if you’re ready, you’re going to play and if you’re not, you’re just going to have to wait till the next year and keep building your body and things like that.?”It’s how you approach it, if you redshirt, if you attack it or not. And you do get the four-game experience for the next year, which I think is really good versus not playing at all and just redshirting.”

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