Fresno State last season used a new four-game NCAA redshirt rule to its advantage, putting linebacker Justin Rice on the shelf after four games to preserve a season of eligibility.
It made sense.
Rice had played in the first four games in 2018, primarily on special teams. But the Bulldogs had had three senior starters at linebacker in Jeff Allison, George Helmuth and James Bailey and barring an injury in that group, Rice would have spent his junior season as a spot player and on special teams.
Shutting down Rice last year seems to have paid dividends.
Now in his junior season, Rice is one of the Bulldogs’ most productive players – second on the team in total tackles with 37, first in passes defended with seven and fumbles forced with three, tied with safety Wylan Free for first in interceptions with two.
Four games in this season the Bulldogs are in a different position with their overall depth and with their true freshmen, and the four who are at the four-game cutoff for taking a redshirt this year are likely to keep playing.
“We’ve discussed it as coaches,” coach Jeff Tedford said. “It changes from week to week. If you get an injury, you know, you have to go, so you keep people in meetings and you keep people alive. But if people are playing only one or two plays a game, you have to make decisions based off that. But it’s such a moving target all the time with our health.”
A few schools have had starters and rotation players opt out of the season to take a redshirt – notably Houston quarterback D’Eriq King and Nevada running back Jaxson Kincaide.
The Bulldogs, Tedford said, haven’t had a player ask to redshirt.
Here is where the Bulldogs stand with the true freshmen who have played to this point …
▪ LB Levelle Bailey
▪ WR Jalen Cropper
▪ WR Jamal Glaspie
▪ DB Evan Williams
▪ CB Deshawn Ruffin
▪ CB Randy Jordan
▪ DB Deven Jarvis
▪ LB Malachi Langley
Bailey has started two games and Cropper and Glaspie each have made one start. Ruffin, who also made one start, is out after suffering a leg injury in the Bulldogs’ victory over Sacramento State, which moved Jordan into a backup role at cornerback.
Jarvis and Langley played in their first games in the Sept. 28 victory at New Mexico State.
Fresno State this season has had 23 players play for the first time in their college career and 17 make first career starts including the four true freshmen.
“It depends on, from week to week, what the plan brings and how much they’ll play,” Tedford said. “You have to always keep guys ready to play in case they have to go in, because they’re one play away from having to play a full game.
“We monitor it, but it’s just something we’re going to keep an eye on throughout the season. Some guys haven’t even played in a game, but they’re still right there. It’s a moving target constantly through the season.”