Longtime football coach Todd Berry, who was most recently at Louisiana-Monroe, has spoken with enough college administrators and coaches to know that the new redshirt rule implemented last year has been a smashing success. If you were unaware, players can now redshirt after participating in up to four games in a season, a change the coaching community seriously supported for years. Before the rule’s adoption last June, everyone understood the positive impacts of such a dramatic change, for both player and coach: It gives freshmen key experience while not removing a complete year of eligibility, and for coaches, it relieves them from a late-season dilemma as depth thins: burn a kid’s redshirt to play him for only a few plays.
More than one year under the new policy, another unintended benefit is being felt. Under the old rule, as many as 20 players knew they wouldn’t play a single snap in a particular season. “A number of coaches have come to me, ‘The morale of my team is so much higher,’ because they all have a chance to play,’” Berry says. But there’s also been an unintended consequence: high-profile players transferring after meeting their four-game limit in order to retain a year of eligibility. The latter hasn’t happened often, but it has happened (think QB Kelly Bryant at Clemson and WR Jalen McCleskey at Oklahoma State).
On Monday, we were presented with yet another… benefit (?) of the new rule. Houston announced that star quarterback D’Eriq King plans to sit out the rest of the 2019 season. He doesn’t plan to transfer. It is a bizarre situation that leaves much of the college football world wondering if there’s more to the story or assuming the Cougars are punting on 2019. UH is off to a 1-3 start in Dana Holgorsen’s debut season, most recently dropping one-score games against Washington State and Tulane. The most bizarre part of this story—King returning to Houston in 2020—is somewhat in doubt, though. Earlier Monday, his father told Fox 26 in Houston that his son planned to enter the transfer portal. “It's the best decision for him at this point,” King’s father, Eric, said. “Very, very tough [decision]. He's got a lot of teammates riding on him. Sometimes you got to be a little self-centered and do what's best for you.” This story gets weirder, too. The only quarterback on Houston’s roster to have thrown a pass thus far this year is Holgorsen’s son, Logan.
King’s situation at Houston is unique. He’s on his third head coach of his career. Tom Herman left Houston for Texas after 2016 and then the school fired Major Applewhite last year to hire Holgorsen. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in the spring, Holgorsen expressed his disappointment in only having King for one season. He was excited about working with such a talented QB but was discouraged that King, a senior, burned a year of eligibility as a freshman in 2016 rather than redshirt. This is an unusual way to get more time with a player, a peculiar byproduct of the new redshirt rule. We’ve seen it used for transfer reasons. The most notable was, of course, Bryant, the former Clemson quarterback who lost his starting job to Trevor Lawrence four games into the 2018 season and then took off the rest of the season, eventually finding a home at Missouri where he’s now calling the shots. For the same reason—playing time—McClesky left the Cowboys program four games into last season, transferred and is now a starter at Tulane.
King’s situation is different. He’s not only the starting quarterback but he is very much entrenched as such, posting strong numbers each week (he’s averaging nearly 250 all-purpose yards a game and has scored 12 touchdowns). For coaches who supported the redshirt rule, players transferring after Game 4 is part of the trade-off. “We felt like with every positive, there’s a negative. It’s something we discussed collectively,” Berry says. “We felt like this was not going to happen very often.” And it hasn’t, but what’s happening in Houston is something all together weird and different. Maybe it works. Maybe King uses this time to develop even more for a banner fifth year in 2020. Or maybe he leaves over the offseason.