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New NCAA redshirt rule drives ACC coaches to play more freshmen in opening week

September 4, 2018

One week into the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, it’s clear that ACC football coaches are using it to get their youngest players game experience.

In 2017, 123 true freshmen played in games for ACC teams. Through the league’s Week 1 games, 104 played, according to conference sports information directors.

“We’ve got a group of kids that we say, ‘Hey, these guys got a chance to help us win games this year. Let’s play them now,’” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “After the third game, sit down and decide whether we think they’ll continue to play for the year or play one more game and then redshirt. Then we have a group of guys we feel aren’t prepared right now to play either physically or mentally, but our plans were to redshirt and maybe play them the last four games of the year.”

Defending league champion Clemson played eight true freshmen in 14 games last year. Coach Dabo Swinney trotted out 13 in the Tigers’ season-opening win over Furman. That was the trend around the league.

At Boston College, Steve Addazio played just five true freshmen in 2017, tied with Wake Forest for the league low. The Eagles used nine in Saturday’s win over Massachusetts.

Georgia Tech? The Yellow Jackets, who played nine true freshmen last season, put 11 on the field in their season-opening win over Alcorn State.

Five conference teams already have played more true freshmen one game into 2018 than they did all of last year.

“I think we have a plan of the freshmen that we know we’re probably not going to redshirt at all,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “I think with that new rule, it also gives you the option of sometimes if you think you have a guy that’s going to play, they go through the first four games, they haven’t played very much or they haven’t played as well as you thought, you can always pull that and redshirt them.”

In June, the NCAA passed legislation that allowed players to compete in up to four games without burning a full year of eligibility.

The change opened the door for freshmen to get game experience or fill in for injured teammates for a week or two without losing a full season.

The challenge, coaches agree, is determining after two, three or four games which players can really contribute all season and which would be better served by staying off the field and redshirting. The chance to play the rookies in four games just gives coaches a more accurate evaluation before making that call.

North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said he didn’t think the rule would alter his decision-making process on which true freshmen to put in games.

“I’m kind of the mindset of I’m going to play the guys that are ready to play. I don’t look at it as an experimental opportunity. I mean, this isn’t experimentation, this is our jobs. This is our livelihood. This is how we put food on the table. For our players, it’s their futures, and they’re seniors that have invested a lot of time. I’m not going to go out there and experiment and ruin their season on one. If a kid shows us he’s ready to play, I’m going to play him.”

Still, in the Wolfpack’s season-opening win over James Madison on Saturday, Doeren played eight true freshmen, two more than he used all of last season.

While most league coaches said they have established a plan for which rookies they want to get some early game experience, they all agreed that injuries can turn those plans upside down.

“We have a plan of what we think we would like to be able to do,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “But it will be very fluid throughout the season. You can’t predict your injuries, you can’t predict depth problems, you can’t predict how well a guy is ... going to advance during the season. So it will be fluid.”

In its win over Richmond on Saturday, Virginia played seven true freshmen, including nose tackle Jordan Redmond, who started.

Monday night in Tallahassee, the Hokies played nine true freshmen, a group that included starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw.

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