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New redshirt rule means decision time is coming for many Arizona players

arizona-wildcats-frank-brown-ncaa-transfer-portal-running-back-freshman-houston-fisch-2021 Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Donovan Laie wasn’t expected to play such a major role this season for the Arizona Wildcats, a 3-star prospect ranked by 247Sports as the No. 93 offensive tackle in the 2018 recruiting class.

Yet, on Saturday against USC he will make his fifth consecutive start, his third at right tackle after starting the first two games at left tackle.

And when Laie lines up for the Wildcats’ first offensive snap it will officially eliminate any possibility of him being redshirted in 2018.

Not that Arizona was considering such a thing, but the new redshirt rule implemented this year by the NCAA has caused college football coaches to keep close track of how it uses certain players.

Under the new rule, any player can appear in up to four games—at any point in the season—and still retain a full year of eligibility. Previously all it took was being on the field for one play to burn a redshirt, with injuries the only way to try and gain that year back.

Laie and cornerback McKenzie Barnes are the only true freshmen on Arizona’s roster to have appeared in all four games this season. Wide receiver Tre Adams, safety Dayven Coleman and Christian Young and defensive lineman Mykee Irving have played in three games, running back Darrius Smith has appeared twice and four others (wide receivers Jailen Bailey and Thomas Marcus and tight ends Jake Peters and Zach Williams) have seen action once.

There are 12 other true freshmen, most notably quarterbacks Jamarye Joiner and Kevin Doyle and linebacker Issiah Johnson, who have yet to make their collegiate debuts.

While the main intent of the rule change was to help teams give younger players some experience without wasting their eligibility there’s been an unexpected byproduct: transfers, particularly by non-freshmen.

Several notable contributors from power conference teams have announced their intention to transfer in the last two weeks, many citing playing time (or a lack thereof) in their decision. This week alone has seen Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, Oklahoma State wide receiver Jalen McClesky and Oregon running back Taj Gibson, all seniors, leave their respective programs.

And since none had played in more than four games they’ll all still have a full year of eligibility left.

Arizona has 22 non-freshmen (14 sophomores, five juniors and three seniors) who have yet to use a redshirt. That group, which includes junior quarterback Khalil Tate and sophomore linebackers Tony Fields II and Colin Schooler, has combined to make 30 starts and appear in 62 games this season.

There have been no indications that any redshirt-eligible Wildcats are considering a transfer, though if any of the ones who have appeared in every game so far don’t play against USC that could lead to speculation.

For example, if sophomore Lucas Havrisik—who has missed four of eight field goal attempts and an extra point—were to get benched in favor of Josh Pollack he would still have three years of eligibility left at another school. And senior safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, who started 27 consecutive games before coming off the bench the last two weeks, could hypothetically play another full season somewhere else.