Nine months after falling one game shy of a College Football Playoff berth, Utah was supposed to open the 2020 college football season as one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the country.
The Utes lost 63 percent of their production from last year’s 11-win team, the highest in the FBS, including Tyler Huntley’s 3,092 passing yards, Zack Moss’ 1,416 rushing yards, and Bradlee Anae’ 14 sacks. They did return leading tackler Devin Lloyd, 600-yard tight end Brant Kuithe, and several other key players, many of whom will make decisions on whether to play a potential spring season and/or fall 2021 season (after the Pac-12 postponed the 2020 season), but had 42 freshmen on their spring roster (15 true and 27 redshirt). Regardless of those NFL Draft, graduation, and transfer decisions, the Utes could have at least 60 freshmen on their 2021 roster after an unprecedented NCAA decision on Friday:
“All fall sport student-athletes will receive both and additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it,” the NCAA said in a release. “Student-athletes who do not enroll full time during the 2020 fall term have flexibility in the progress-toward-degree requirements that must be met for eligibility in future terms.”
One free year, the NCAA says. If your team plays this fall, you don’t lose a year of eligibility. If your team plays in the spring, you don’t lose a year of eligibility. Current seniors may return for a fifth, sixth, or in some cases, a seventh season. Current juniors will remain juniors, sophomores will remain sophomores, and freshmen will remain freshmen. And that means 2021 will feature thousands of freshmen.
With 42 freshmen already on the roster, Utah has received verbal commitments from eight recruits in the 2021 class and offered nearly 200 more prospects (247Sports). We don’t know how many players Kyle Whittingham will sign in the 2021 class. We don’t know how roster management will play out for Utah or any of the 130 FBS programs as they grapple with financial issues, recruiting limitations, and the ongoing pandemic. We don’t know if Utah, who is scheduled to lose 14 scholarship seniors after the 2021 season, will sign their typical recruiting class and add their typical transfers.
We do know regardless of Utah’s 2021 class and NFL Draft, graduation, and transfer decision, the Utes’ 2021 roster could feature at least 60 freshmen, as could other FBS teams as college football enters the first year of what could be a years-long effect on recruiting, transfers, NFL Draft decisions, and depth charts.