Nebraska vs. Minnesota, 10.22.2011 34

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill's proposal has some merit, Steven M. Sipple writes. Whatever can inject some energy into the bowl system.

We need to lighten the mood around here.

Forget 70-31. Forget those heralded junior college defensive tackles choosing schools other than Nebraska.

We need to fantasize.

Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill recently floated an intriguing idea (Michigan's Brady Hoke backed it): Allow freshman redshirts to play in bowl games without burning a season of eligibility.

Allow Nebraska fans to see heralded Tommy Armstrong play quarterback for a few plays (or more) in the bowl game (assuming he were healthy).

Allow us to see if Vincent Valentine really can supply a desperately needed anchor in the Husker defensive line.

Allow us to see if Thomas Brown can provide ample pass-rush pop, a la Eric Martin.

Allowing redshirts to play might pump life into the bowl season.

Nebraska is taking all of its players to Orlando, Fla., for the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl. Might as well let the young guys play, if they're ready.

Bowls are a unique part of college sports. Besides the national championship game (and future playoff contests), bowl games essentially are exhibitions.

Granted, there are complications to Kill's idea. If football was granted this sort of exception, pressure might start in other sports to allow similar opportunities.

What's more, the idea might open a can of worms for coaches. Let's say Brown recorded three sacks against Georgia. You can imagine Nebraska fans' cries of, "Why wasn't that guy playing all season?"

Heaven forbid Armstrong running wild and creating a controversy that would burn throughout the offseason.

Whatever. Let's have some fun.

If it were up to Kill, who is a member of the NCAA football rules committee, coaches could turn loose their redshirts this time of year.

"You'd like to have it happen, I can tell you that, because it makes a lot of sense, because there's a lot of people going to bowl games all beat up," Kill told reporters.

He said NCAA coaches have discussed the issue, but legislation could take awhile.

So, we're left to fantasize.

"I've never even thought about it," said Ron Brown, who has spent a quarter-century as a Nebraska assistant coach.

He paused.

"Yeah, it would add a little life to the bowl game," he said.

But would the plan be fair to veteran players? Say Valentine were eligible to play. Would that mean a senior would have to step aside in his final college game?

If that were the case, so be it, Brown said.

"I mean, what's fair?" the coach said. "May the best man win. If that senior was really that good, then (Valentine) shouldn't beat him out. You play the best guys.

"We're not going back to first grade, where everybody gets to play. This is big-boy ball."

As for that can of worms: Alabama is set to face Notre Dame for all the marbles. Let's say Nick Saban trots out a freshman defender the Irish have never seen on video. Would that make you feel uncomfortable, considering a championship is on the line.

Not a problem, Brown said.

"That guy still would have a basic function within the defense," he said. "If he's a C-gap player on a certain play, no matter how he does it, he's got to go to the C gap."

Brown paused again. He thought of a scenario that might pose problems for a defense: A pass-oriented offense suddenly turning to a running quarterback. He said three weeks of bowl preparation might be enough time for a team to introduce the speed option. The team could spring it on a defense for at least a few plays. And maybe that would be the difference.

"You're throwing in a wrinkle nobody's seen. ... That would be interesting," Brown said.

The more I ponder Kill's idea, the less radical it seems.

"I think, by and large, it wouldn't affect the game that much," Brown said. "I think it would help the Minnesotas — teams with injuries. They could line up and have people to play.

"Other than that, I don't know that it would add a whole lot, because I think most coaches are tuned into the mind-set that if you have a talented guy, you had better play him."

It's not always that cut and dried. Take the case of Thomas Brown, the Nebraska freshman, who clearly was talented enough to contribute this season. NU coaches were set to unleash him in the second game, against UCLA, to bolster the pass rush.

However, "He sprained his ankle that week on his second practice rep with the varsity group, and that idea was kind of foiled from there because he wasn't full-speed for about three weeks or so," said Husker defensive coordinator John Papuchis. "By the time he was back to full-speed, we were kind of down the road of moving on with other guys.

"It would've been too much for him to learn in the back half of the year."

Brown, though, would be ready for action now — at least for spot duty as a pass rusher. Nebraska could line him up wide on third-and-long and let him try to wreak havoc.

"That's a pain in the butt for any offense, an extra speed guy who's a weapon outside," Ron Brown said.

That would be another reason to tune into the game, and some bowls need as much help as they can get.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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