SEC coaches agree: Proposed redshirt rule change would be slam-dunk for college football

May is rule-discussion season around the SEC, culminating with the conference’s annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla., later this month. The proposal receiving the brightest media spotlight in recent days happens to be one that coaches love.

Last week, news broke that the American Football Coaches Association was sending a proposal to the NCAA that would change college football’s long-standing redshirt rule in a significant way: Players could appear in up to four games and still retain redshirt status for that season.

For instance, if this rule change had been adopted last season, Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson would enter 2017 as a redshirt freshman, despite playing in three games last November. Schools dealing with significant depth issues — such as Kentucky, which lost starting quarterback Drew Barker early in the year — could have played backup Gunnar Hoak late in the season without needing to fret over his redshirt status. And players who perhaps had their redshirts pulled too early, including South Carolina’s Brandon McIlwain, would not have lost an entire season despite receiving minimal playing time.

The rule change also would allow fans to see more future stars play in bowl games than ever before. Imagine Alabama being able to unleash 5-star LB Ben Davis against Clemson in the national championship game?

At the very least, the prospect of early playing time would be a useful motivational tool for someone like coach Nick Saban, whose talent-hoarding abilities annually force the Crimson Tide to redshirt blue-chip players.

On Monday, several SEC coaches addressed the redshirt rule on the spring football teleconference, and all of them expressed varying degrees of support for the proposed change.

Here is what 10 of the conference’s program-leaders had to say:

  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: “I’m definitely in favor of that. You look at some of the restrictions with academic redshirts, with injuries, number of scholarships, length of season. We’re looking at health and safety of players. There might be a guy that you might like to play, but he’s not quite developed. He’s not quite ready, for whatever reason. But as the season goes on, at the end of his freshman year, say ‘Hey, this guy could be ready. He could take some reps off another guy.’ You should be able to do that. The other tragedy is a guy that maybe starts playing midway through the season thinking he might not play, midway through the season he plays two games, he gets hurt. That counts as a whole year even though he played less than the four games that would be allowed at the beginning of the year. I think that would be very advantageous to the players and for the game, and for the development of these young men as they go forward.”
  • Ed Orgeron, LSU: “Love it. I think that’d be great. You can take those guys, invest in your roster, invest in the development of your team, invest in your rotation. This is basketball on grass these days. You got some offenses out there trying to run 100 plays [per game]. The game has doubled in the sense of what we play. The more guys you can play without burning a year would be great.”
  • Jim McElwain, Florida: “Why not just let them play? Give them the five years of eligibility and call it the way it is. As you get later in the season, now you’ve got those guys you’d like to get in there that played in whatever, 20 percent of the first — I’m not real good at math anyway, so trying to figure out when to use them and not to use them. But I do think that’s a good rule.”
  • Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: “I think the old rule is an antiquated rule. If this rule comes into effect, what we’re looking at is the ability to bolster your roster a little bit and give yourself a chance. If you’re acclimated and they can play, you let them play. Now, when that is, that’s really on you. Last year, when you look at [Leonard] Fournette, [Christian] McCaffrey and those guys not playing in bowl games — those guys affect games. Is that going to be a future trend? I don’t know. As we move forward, coaches have to prepare for guys who may be draft-worthy possibly not playing in postseason games. And what does that do to you in terms of your numbers and/or players who are readily available to you? I look at it and say it’s a good rule.”
  • Nick Saban, Alabama: “I absolutely would be in favor of that. One of the most difficult things for players is they can’t play at all when they’re freshmen to be able to gain a redshirt year. They all want to play. This would give them an opportunity to play some and would actually enhance their development to some degree. With the numbers we have right now and the number of games we’re playing, you might be able to play a few more players in some of those games. That would help other players on your team as well. The No. 1 thing: It would tremendously help the development of some young players on your team to be able to look forward to playing some games but not lose the year. You eliminate some of these things where a guy plays for five plays in a game, and you got to appeal to get his year back because you either made a mistake putting him in the game or you thought he was going to play more and he didn’t.”
  • Bret Bielema, Arkansas: “I actually sit on the American Football Coaches Association panel … I’ve had a while to process the one we just discussed. Allowing four games as a first-year player without counting against you would be pretty significant.”
  • Barry Odom, Missouri: “Moving forward, when you get the depth a little bit more like it needs to be, it could be a luxury not only for your program but for the development of your kids. To the point that you think he’s ready to go play, at whatever point it is during the season, then you’ve got the decision to make … I think there’s some merit to that.”
  • Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss: “I love the new proposal out there. I think it’s needed with everything that’s going on in college athletics. The season’s getting longer. The more physical play, the year-round the toll that’s on [players’] bodies. It’s a great option if you can play freshmen or a kid that’s going through a redshirt year in four games or less. I think it’s a very positive and needed change we need to make. [Pulling Patterson’s redshirt] would’ve been an easy decision to make at that point. I think it’s also going to be beneficial in bowl games.”
  • Mark Stoops, Kentucky: “I think that rule change would make a lot of sense. We were in that situation last year when we had a quarterback hurt early in the year, Drew Barker. We played most of the year with our backup quarterback being a redshirt guy. We decided to keep that redshirt on Gunnar Hoak in Game 11. Played our third-team quarterback, who did some good things. But it was a situation that could’ve benefited us a year ago. It can protect the player in a redshirt year, it can help gain experience for the following year. Good rule.”
  • Will Muschamp, South Carolina: “Absolutely. I think that’d be a great rule. When an injury happens or you’re sitting in a position when a young man may not be totally ready, you may not know until he plays on game day. A lot of time you say, ‘This guy’s ready to go,’ and then he gets to game day and he doesn’t play very well. … From an experience standpoint, I think it just helps overall.”

Read more:

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Alec Shirkey – SEC Country


On the Beat: Be careful, SEC, because Alabama would be prime free-agent destination

Alabama-Nick Saban-graduate transfers-SEC-sec football-alabama football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Should they or shouldn’t they have restrictions? That’s the question graduate transfers face from Alabama football and every program in the country.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has said he believes programs should follow the rules in place unless there is a special academic circumstance that benefits the players.

Personally, I believe graduate transfers should be able to move wherever they want to go. If a player commits himself to finishing school and still has eligibility left, there should not be any restrictions on where he can transfer.

It’s one thing to keep opposing coaches from poaching your undergrads, but grad transfers have finished their degrees and deserve to pursue other opportunities.

RELATED: Saban at 66 vs. other coaches at same age

You think Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt (Alabama’s defensive coordinator the last two seasons) or Georgia coach Kirby Smart (who spent a decade with Saban) needs a player to tell them how Alabama’s program works?

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Saban have been battling for nearly a decade and probably have studied each other more than any two opposing coaches, so there likely is nothing a transfer could say to give the other an advantage.

The point here is this: The people who say coaches dispute transfers to keep an opposing team from getting an advantage over them are missing the fact that these coaches have countless hours of film on each other, and it’s not like they make massive changes from year to year.

There’s something else that needs to be addressed here though. During a speaking appearance before the Regions Tradition Pro-Am on Wednesday, Saban asked an important question: “Do we want free agency in the SEC?”

On the surface, Saban is asking if people want college football to be treated like the NFL, where players have more freedom in their movement.

ON THE BEAT: Taking ‘trophy room’ to next level | Deal with it, Nick Saban is an Alabama lifer

But a second look at the question could bring the interpretation of Saban sending warning shots to other coaches.

Think about it: Which program in the country is better equipped to bring in “free agents” than Alabama? Imagine Saban having an opportunity to re-recruit a top player from Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss or any other school that won’t sniff a College Football Playoff appearance or national championship.

The pitch would be easy if you’re Saban: “Hey, come to Alabama. We’ve made the playoff every year and won the championship in two of those years, aight.”

That would be hard for a player to turn down.

Expect the transfer rules to continue to be a hot topic, and if there is any coach opposing teams don’t want having the ability to re-recruit players, it’s Saban.

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Marq Burnett – SEC Country


Question of the Day: What would Butch Jones bring to Alabama staff?

Butch Jones-Alabama football-Nick Saban-Crimson Tide football

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — We’re pushing through the early part of the offseason after Alabama’s championship run, and we’re here to answer any questions you may have.

The players are locked in on the spring semester while the coaching staff is looking ahead to the 2019 recruiting cycle.

Here’s our question of the day — go here for other Alabama football and recruiting questions and answers.

What would Butch Jones bring to Alabama’s coaching staff?

In case you missed it, all signs point toward Nick Saban hiring former Tennessee coach Butch Jones to the Crimson Tide coaching staff as an analyst. Jones was spotted wearing Alabama gear at the Crimson Tide’s pro day on Wednesday.

Asked at Alabama’s pro day whether he has hired Jones, Saban told reporters the following:

“You know, I don’t know where that is. We have issues that we have to go through to be able to hire somebody from another school. I haven’t gotten a report on where that is right now. We are interested in him being a part of our staff.”

Jones didn’t have much success against Saban’s Alabama teams while at Tennessee, losing all five games against the Tide during his tenure there. Still, Saban has a lot of respect for Jones. Saban is no stranger to bringing in coaches who have been fired as analysts or for on-field positions. Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian and others have rehabbed their images in Tuscaloosa before going on to other jobs.

“He’s got a lot of experience. We always had a lot of respect for him when we had to play against him, so, that’s probably why we’re interested.” — Saban on Jones

Bringing on Jones or any former head coach as an analyst should only be viewed as a positive. For the most part, analysts spend their time breaking down film to help streamline the process for on-field coaches.

Saban is the king of picking the brains of other coaches and taking some of their ideas to implement into his system where he sees fit. It’s easy to make fun of a guy like Jones, but if Saban gives him the stamp of approval it’d be a big boost to his career.

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Marq Burnett – SEC Country


If Alabama football players were Marvel characters, these would be best fits

Alabama football-Marvel-Nick Saban-Damien Harris-Tua Tagovailoa-Tony Brown-Kirby Smart-Raekwon Davis

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you read the headline and thought, “Why the hell would someone waste time comparing Alabama football players to comic characters,” your guess is as good as mine.

But it’s the offseason and Black Panther just came out so here we are. We could write another depth chart piece, but why not have a little fun.

Damien Harris as Black Panther

This one feels right. After announcing that he would return to Tuscaloosa for his senior season, Damien Harris seemingly took the mantle as king of the University of Alabama.

Not only is he a great football player, but Harris isn’t your typical “stick to sports” athlete. Harris has been outspoken on social issues. He helped get an Alabama student who made racist remarks on video kicked out of school. That alone was enough to earn him the Black Panther spot. Shooting his shot at Demi Lovato was icing on the cake.

With a strong senior season, Harris has a chance to rewrite Alabama’s record books. He could become the first Alabama player to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. He’s rushed for 2,197 yards and 14 touchdowns during his first three seasons in Tuscaloosa. Harris is only 1,394 yards off the former king’s (Derrick Henry) career rushing record.

Raekwon Davis as the Hulk

With Tony Brown and Ronnie Harrison moving on, Raekwon Davis sits alone on the list of Alabama players you wouldn’t want to see in a dark alley.

The guy got shot and made a sack in a football game a week later. He’s an animal.

Davis exploded onto the scene as a sophomore last season, finishing third on the team with 69 tackles. He led the team with 8 1/2 sacks and finished second with 10 1/2 tackles for loss. He added an interception and a fumble recovery.

Another season like that could have Davis being mentioned as a NFL first-round pick.

Watch the video below and try not to imagine the Hulk tearing through everything around him. What the Hulk does to cities and buildings, Davis does to offensive linemen and quarterbacks. I repeat: The guy is an animal.

Miller Forristall as Captain America

My first thought upon seeing Miller Forristall when Alabama brought up its 2016 early enrollees for interviews was, ‘Wow, this kid looks like Steve Rogers before the Captain America transformation.’ Forristall has since bulked up during his two years in the strength and conditioning program.

Nick Saban as Nick Fury/Professor X

It was tough to settle on a role for Nick Saban because he has traits from both characters. He plays mind games like Professor X, but isn’t afraid to curse you out like Samuel L. Jackson — I mean, Nick Fury.

Kirby Smart as Magneto

This one just made sense. Like Professor X and Magneto, Saban and Kirby Smart were once good friends and colleagues before Smart/Magneto left to become a “bad” guy.

No matter how hard he tries, Magneto can never seem to get the best of his old friend Professor X. In their lone career meeting as head coaches, Smart appeared to have the upper hand on Saban until he unleashed a secret weapon (see next line).

Tua Tagovailoa as Spiderman

When you look at Tua Tagovailoa, you think “no way a freshman should be doing this on such a big stage.” Same goes for Spider-Man, a high school kid taking out bad guys in between school periods.

Tua’s game-winning touchdown to DeVonta Smith was delivered with the same precision Spidey uses to sling his webs.

Mack Wilson as Iron Man (remember, just a fun post)

Seriously, Mack Wilson must have a personal photographer or a group of interns stuck in a room finding photos of him online.

Like Tony Stark, Wilson does what’s best for the team, but he also has sort of a “look at me” attitude when he’s doing it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long it doesn’t get in the way of the overall goal.

Mac Jones as Hawkeye/Clint Barton

You kind of forget at times that Mac Jones is there because he’s overshadowed by teammates, but he plays an important role and deserves a mention.

Honorable mention: Tony Brown as Wolverine

A loner who kind of does his own thing, but will help the team when necessary. Doesn’t care how the job gets done as long as it gets done. Insanely ripped. Has massive chip on his shoulder because of people who have “lied.” (Thanks, Dabo and Hunter Renfrow).

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Marq Burnett – SEC Country


Former captain on Hugh Freeze: ‘I can understand why people would be scared and afraid of him’

Hugh Freeze-Ole Miss-SEC

On July 20, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze resigned from his position after it was revealed that he had made a phone call to an escort service.

Freeze presented the vibe that he is a strong, Christian man as well as someone who was trying to help people, whether that be through college football or his own nonprofit organization. But since his resignation, coupled with the NCAA allegations made against Ole Miss in his time at the school, some have wondered what kind of person Freeze really is.

Josh Peters of USA Today attempted to answer that question and dug as far back as Freeze’s time as a high school coach at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tenn. Peters reveals that Freeze could be an intimidating figure as well as  someone who could display inappropriate behavior.

“John Wayne is the best comparison I can make in that it’s not a guy you want to go up against,’’ James Allison, a captain on Freeze’s 2004 football team at Briarcrest, said of Freeze. “So I can understand why people would be scared and afraid of him and, if something were to happen, why they might not feel completely comfortable going forward with that.”

Peters also spoke to several female students who attended Briarcrest and noted that Freeze displayed strange behavior. One student said that Freeze made her change out of her Grateful Dead T-shirt in his office instead of doing so in a bathroom. The student said that Freeze did nothing sexual but was still off-put by his behavior.

Freeze did issue a response to USA Today regarding the accusations.

“These accusations are totally false. I can unequivocally say that during my time at Briarcrest Christian School I handled disciplinary issues professionally and in accordance with the school’s policy. I am very confident that the members of the administration who worked hand in hand with me during my tenure will verify that,” Freeze said.

The man Freeze replaced at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt, is suing the school after he claims that the school, led by Freeze, attempted to smear his name with regard to the NCAA investigation. Matt Luke has replaced Freeze at Ole Miss on an interim basis.

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Connor Riley – SEC Country