Special report: Whatever happened to redshirting players in college football?

Across the country, college football teams are redshirting players less and less. Why? The reasons are many: Players are more prepared than they used to be, teams need freshmen for added depth and playing time is essential for high-profile recruits.
BY JAKE TROTTER, Staff Writer, jtrotter@opubco.com Modified: August 28, 2010 at 11:28 pm •  Published: August 28, 2010
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As teams open their 2010 seasons this week, many will rely on true freshmen like never before.

At USC, Robert Woods will become the first true freshman ever to start an opener at wideout for the Trojans.

At BYU, Jake Heaps fell short of becoming the first true freshman in school history to open the season as the starting quarterback. Still, he'll share time and figures to win the full-time job before long.

At Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the trend is no different.

The Sooners have seven true freshmen are on their two-deep heading into Saturday's opener, including fullback Trey Millard and wideout Kenny Stills in the starting lineup.

The Cowboys have nine true freshmen in their two-deep, including cornerback Justin Gilbert, who will handle punt returns.

At both Bedlam schools, at least a dozen true freshmen, and perhaps several more, will play. Highs in the Stoops and Gundy eras.

What has happened to the practice of redshirting true freshmen in college football?

"Three years ago, I was talking about how it was important to redshirt as many players as possible. That's how things change," said OSU coach Mike Gundy. "We feel like if there's a player who can contribute to our team, get 25 to 30 plays per game whether on special teams or offense or defense, then he's going to help us."

In Norman, the belief is the same.

"With 85 scholarships, you get thin when you're not playing guys. Special teams get thin. Depth gets thin," said OU coach Bob Stoops. "So if he is ready to play and can add depth, you play him."

Across the country, schools have become more inclined to play their true freshmen instead of redshirting them.

One major reason is the desire to win now.

"Coaches today in the current college football landscape are starting to understand, they have to win now, in order to keep their jobs," said ESPN college football analyst Jesse Palmer. "Gone are the days when a coach has a long tenure and juniors and seniors are entitled to playing time, where freshmen come in, redshirt and wait their turn. Coaches are realizing they need to win, or they will get fired, or they will get bought out."

Another major reason is to win recruiting battles. Especially among the blue-chip prospects.

"Being on the scout team all year is never any fun," said OU center Ben Habern, who saw time as a true freshman in 2008 even though the Sooners had all-conference center Jon Cooper. "I don't think any player wants to come in and redshirt."

Would Adrian Peterson have gone to OU if he thought he was going to redshirt? Or Dez Bryant at OSU?

"There's no doubt about it, coaches are getting away from redshirting players," said ESPN college football analyst Desmond Howard, who won the Heisman Trophy at Michigan in 1991. "I remember talking to (former USC coach) Pete Carroll, and one of the things he tells freshmen is, you will have a chance to compete for a starting position. You're not telling him you're going to play or you're going to start, but you will have an equal opportunity to practice and compete for a starting job."

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REDSHIRTS AT OU AND OSU

Here's a look at how many freshmen OSU and OU have redshirted in the last 10 years:

Oklahoma State

Year: Freshmen-Redshirted-Played

2009: 16-12-4

2008: 19-15-4

2007: 16-12-4

2006: 21-10-11

2005: 16-9-7

2004: 21-16-5

2003: 24-14-10

2002: 16-12-4

2001: 20-15-5

2000: 18-15-3

Total: 187-130-57

Oklahoma

Year: Freshmen-redshirt-played

2009: 20-11-9

2008: 16-11-5

2007: 17-16-1

2006: 19-12-7

2005: 23-12-11

2004: 14-10-4

2003: 20-19-1

2002: 21-11-10

2001: 20-14-6

2000: 19-13-6

Totals: 189-129-60

Note: Junior college players and players who did not qualify academically or failed to stay on campus their entire freshman season were not included.

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