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Syracuse sure could’ve used new NCAA redshirt rule last year

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The NCAA makes a change for the better, albeit not in time to benefit the Orange’s 2017 season.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have heard already the NCAA actually went and made some positive changes this week — maybe even three of them, in fact! It’s a banner day for overwrought bureaucracy.

The big things you’ll want to know:

  • Division I teams can’t limit where players are allowed to transfer (though conferences still can choose to). We covered this months back.
  • Football players can now participate in up to four games without burning a redshirt.
  • Pre-determined conference bowl ties based on recent number of bowl-eligible teams.

Again, we already discussed the first one, and really the third doesn’t affect us much since the ACC will get 11 slots from 2020-25.

But that second one is an interesting shift that many coaches have wanted for awhile and fans should, too. It actively expands who’s available on any roster, potentially helping avoid injuries. But most importantly, it lets young players get reps in otherwise less important games (either early cupcakes or later games when a bowl is already out of reach). I wouldn’t call the four-game rule a “preseason” as much as it is baseball’s late-season roster expansion to 40 players while those rookies called up still get to be considered “rookies” the following season.

Obviously, this is very helpful for every college football team, but especially one like the Syracuse Orange, that’s been upgrading its talent with younger, faster players and doesn’t want to burn redshirts just to see what they can do. Now, with this rule change, that’s much less of a concern. If Syracuse is up 50-0 on Wagner this fall, you can probably expect to see a lot of new faces on the field as Dino Babers starts to assess the latest collection of speedy receivers he’s signed (especially four-star Edward Hendrix). This could also open the door for a true competition early on between existing defensive backs and newcomers like Cam Jonas and Atrilleon Williams.

So that’s the future for the Orange. Though you can’t help but think about what could’ve happened in the past, too. In 2017, Syracuse’s offense was largely rudderless for the last two and a half games of the year (after a strong first half from Zack Mahoney vs. Wake Forest). No Eric Dungey meant no ball movement in blowout defeats vs. Louisville and Boston College. Bowl hopes were dashed for good against the Cards, with one game to play.

Had we had the new redshirt rule, though, perhaps we would’ve approached those final few games differently. That’s no outward knock on Mahoney or the effort Rex Culpepper put in. But if we truly believe Tommy DeVito’s the next great Syracuse quarterback, it sure would’ve been nice to test the theory over the final few games — especially with two of the greatest pass-catchers in school history (Steve Ishmael, Ervin Philips) out there to lend him a hand. Babers could’ve done this last year too, but not without burning the shirt. DeVito can play this year of course, but he’s already redshirted so it doesn’t affect anything around eligibility.

As much as it would’ve been nice to have this change last year, it’s still nice to see the NCAA do something positive for student-athletes going forward. Now hopefully Syracuse is still playing for something in late November this year and we don’t need to worry about it much.