RJ Young: This will be the best college football season ever
By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer
Last Saturday, several contenders for Power 5 conference titles and even the national championship got to participate in an event almost all of them missed in 2020: the spring game.
Usually something of a letdown with vanilla-covered playbooks, this year’s spring showcases felt great, even as we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of college football for this time of year.
While we can all appreciate the FCS playoff taking place, I’m excited to see all the impact freshmen making their first appearances on their new teams.
We saw Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer awarded sack after sack in his spring game debut.
You can hear me talk a lot more about the Buckeyes in the latest edition of "The No. 1 Ranked Show" with guest Trey Sermon, a former Buck who spoke to me about his preparations for next week’s NFL Draft and more.
Elsewhere in the college football landscape, Miami freshman QB Jake Garcia hit 19 of 25 for 252 yards with two TDs. Alabama redshirt freshman Bryce Young completed 25 of 44 for 333 passing yards with a TD. True freshmen QBs Jaxson Dart and Miller Moss both got to show off at USC’s showcase.
That was just one Saturday in April.
As any recruitnik will tell you, spring game hits different when you’ve been following a kiddo since his sophomore year of high school. It’s not that you don’t know he’s good. It’s that you want to see him in your school’s colors.
You want to see him cracking against the first team. You want to see how deep the roster is likely to be come fall camp. Just as the early enrollee has changed the game, speeding up the maturation process of freshmen, we’re about to see another change — though this one is happening just once.
In August, the NCAA Board of Governors approved a landmark measure proposed by its Division I Council. The measure allows for an extra year of eligibility for all athletes due to the pandemic. Crucially, eligibility was extended even to those athletes who did not opt out of the 2020 season.
That means players who were seniors last year received an unprecedented fifth year of eligibility in some cases. That also means players who might have been forced to enter the NFL Draft or find a different day job have one more year to show pro personnel that they’re more than capable of competing amongst the best in the world.
That also means you’re going to hear the term "super senior" in 2021 as much as you’ve heard "arm talent," "RPO" or "11 personnel" in the past five.
Super seniors do not count toward a program’s 85 scholarship players. That means we’re likely to see the most competitive year of football we’ve witnessed in the more than 150-year history of the sport.
And chances are your team has more than a couple. As of Feb. 28, the Associated Press reported that Illinois had the most, with a whopping 17 super seniors joining up with Bret Bielema for his first season in Champaign.
Rutgers linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi will be one of the super seniors capitalizing on his fifth season of eligibility.
All told, there are 1,046 super seniors on FBS rosters across 130 programs. That means more than 11.5% of the FBS in 2021 is made up of not only super seniors but also super-skilled players.
Remember, the older the player, the more he probably has played football and the better he probably is at playing football. That means there are not just more bodies. They are bigger, stronger, faster ones, too.
Before Title IX, there was no such thing as a scholarship limit in college football. In 1973, the NCAA imposed a limit of 105 scholarships for the sport. That number dropped in 1978 to 95 for what were called Division I-A (now FBS) programs and to 63 for Division I-AA (now FCS) programs.
In 1992, the NCAA reduced the scholarship limit at the highest level of college football to 85. In other words, this season will have the most scholarship players suiting up in 30 years.
Because the game has changed so much with true freshmen arriving ready to play, offensive football embracing the pass at unprecedented levels, the sheer number of resources spent on fielding championship-caliber football teams and a remarkably active transfer portal, I have no doubt that this is going to be the best season of college football we’ve ever seen.
That is cause to rejoice.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young. Subscribe to "No. 1 Ranked Show w/ RJ Young" on YouTube and wherever you get your podcasts. He is not on a StepMill.