The Horned Frogs had a number of talented and experienced defensive backs above Van Zandt, placing the four-star recruit low on the depth chart and limiting his playing time.
However, the second he stepped on the field against Jackson State last September he lost a year of eligibility and the chance to redshirt his freshman season.
Situations like Van Zandt’s are why Big 12 coaches, including TCU’s Gary Patterson, were universally in favor of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule that was announced last month.
The rule will allow players to play in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. The previous rule took away a full year of eligibility after one play of game action.
Patterson said the campaign for the new rule began as the number of available scholarships dwindled, from 125 to 85, and as teams begin to play more games each season. These changes have led to more injuries, forcing coaches to burn redshirts late in the season when starters went down.
“We got into some dicey situations last year in the playoff where an injury here or there we would have had to pull a redshirt on a guy,” Oklahoma Head Coach Lincoln Riley said.“So it takes that out of the equation, which is good.”
The new rule gives teams flexibility when injuries inevitably strike because the shift means coaches don’t have to choose between throwing away a player’s redshirt eligibility or preserving it and using a less talented player in his place.
“For health reasons,” Patterson said, “it will give us a lot more depth at the end of the season, where guys can still play four games. Nobody’s outside the realm of possibility now.”
West Virginia Head Coach Dana Holgorsen cited a specific issue from the 2016 season that sparked his interest in getting the rule changed. Late-season injuries to running backs Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell forced him to start true freshman Martell Pettaway and burn his redshirt eligibility in the 11th game of the season.
“He didn’t play much in Game 12 and the bowl game so that’s really not fair to him,” Holgorsen said.
Along with adding depth to the roster toward the end of the season, the rule change also allows teams to give their young players vital game experience without taking away 25 percent of their eligibility.
This experience can be pivotal to player development, especially at the quarterback position. Young quarterbacks can now gain in-game experience without losing an entire season down the road.
TCU may find themselves in this exact situation in 2018 with highly touted quarterback recruit Justin Rogers out of Louisiana. Rogers is coming off of a torn ACL and will likely be the second or third string quarterback this season.
However, as he continues to gain distance from the injury as the season progresses and becomes more and more comfortable on the field, Patterson and offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie will have the opportunity to play him in games without burning his redshirt.
“Especially with the new redshirt rule we’re going to have an opportunity for younger players,” Patterson said. “Your team’s gonna be a little bit better.”
This opening of opportunities for younger players is one many coaches raved about throughout the annual Big 12 Media Days this week in Frisco, Texas and will begin to utilize in 2018.
“You can actually put them in the game and help your overall depth and your football team and your football program,” Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell said.
While there will certainly be bumps along the road as coaches fine-tune their strategy and depth chart to fit the new rule, there is no denying the impact it will have on college football in 2018 and beyond.
“I’m sure we will make mistakes, but it’s a seismic change in our world,” Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule said.