Brandon Wimbush cannot benefit from the NCAA’s new rule allowing a player to play four games without exhausting a year of eligibility for one simple reason. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback already used his redshirt year in 2016.
Wimbush, who started the first three games for the Irish this year, did not appear in the fourth game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. That prompted a few fans, familiar with the new redshirt rule, to speculate that Wimbush could play just one more game and still preserve a year of eligibility.
But that’s not the case.
The NCAA still requires student athletes to exhaust their eligibility in five years. This is Wimbush’s third year of competing and he had one redshirt year. That means he has one year of eligibility remaining following this year.
I’m unsure the genesis of this confusion. Do some fans forget Wimbush’s redshirt year in 2016? Or do they reason that the NCAA would allow players to take multiple redshirt years? (I know it felt like J.T. Barrett was at Ohio State for 7 years, but I assure you that was not the case.)
If Wimbush wants to transfer, the time to do that would be after he earns his degree in December or May. He could pursue a graduate transfer, which would allow him to play immediately for his new team. Previous Irish quarterbacks who have pursued this route include Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Malik Zaire.
JALEN HURTS’ SITUATION IS DIFFERENT
The Alabama Crimson Tide have a legitimate test case for this redshirt rule. Jalen Hurts is a junior who has played all three years. His fourth appearance was Saturday against the Texas A&M Aggies. Theoretically, the Tide could stop playing Hurts and help him preserve a year of eligibility.
The Tide need a quarterback who is locked in and ready to go if injury befalls Tua Tagovailoa, and Hurts most likely wouldn’t stick around Tuscaloosa for two years if Nick Saban protected his eligibility. The end result would be preserving eligibility for a player to use at another school. The worst case scenario is that Hurts transferred to a school that plays against Alabama in the next two years, so then you’ve got to beat him.
THE WIMBUSH POSITION SWITCH THEORY
Returning to Wimbush, I’ve also read some fan speculation about a position switch to running back. If the senior quarterback truly wants to play, some fans reason, he can see playing time immediately in the backfield.
Let’s break this down.
You’d need buy-in from Wimbush and I don’t see why he’d say yes.
Why would he willingly move to running back, a position he’s never played? It’s not just as simple as “Stand back there seven yards and run downhill when I give you this ball.” He’s not going to supplant Dexter Williams, Jafar Armstrong or Tony Jones Jr. on the depth chart — at least not immediately. The best option for Wimbush the running back would be a package of plays similar to the ones currently offered to Avery Davis. That’s five touches or less per game.
Secondly, I’m guessing Wimbush believes his best opportunity to play in the NFL is as a quarterback. He may not be able to prove that at Notre Dame, but there may be opportunity elsewhere. I know Russell Wilson is the exception to the general rule about graduate quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean Wimbush couldn’t parlay a dominant season at another program into late round NFL Draft selection.
Now let’s examine a potential position switch from the Notre Dame side.
Significant injuries to Wimbush or Ian Book could have cataclysmic impacts on your so-far perfect season. If Book is hurt, Notre Dame needs a healthy Brandon Wimbush to help them win games. If Wimbush gets hurt, the Irish play without a safety net. Any subsequent injury to Book would thrust freshman Phil Jurkovec into the starting lineup. Brian Kelly has said recently that Jurkovec isn’t ready to run the Irish offense, as he spends every week learning the opposition’s offense as the starting quarterback on the scout team.
If injury were to befall Wimbush in his duties as relief quarterback, I think fans would be terribly bummed but understand that this sort of thing is a part of the game. If Wimbush was hurt because he was in at running back with an incomplete knowledge of that position’s playbook or how to execute the plays, then I think fans could rightly wonder why Kelly had tempted fate.
Simply put: From the coaches’ perspective, Wimbush is more valuable on the sideline wearing a visor than he is lining up behind Book as a running back.