• By Tony Caridi
  • |
  • August 17, 2011 10:44 AM
  • |
I’m not sure when it hit me, probably when I noticed that WVU’s new running backs use binkies instead of mouth pieces.

Don’t get me wrong, youth is a wonderful thing, but the 2011 Mountaineers are starting to shape up as the youngest ever, especially at running back.

The class breakdown of WVU’s top four running backs at the midpoint of preseason camp equals three true freshmen (Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison, Vernard Roberts) and one true sophomore (Trey Johnson). The elder statesman, Johnson, brings a whopping 15 career carries for 42 yards into the season.

You remember the 1992 fight between the Mountaineers and Syracuse that seems like it happened last week?

That’s the year these guys were born.

Yeah, either they’re real young or we got real old, real quick.

The truth is actually somewhere in the middle. The game of college football has experienced a metamorphous when it comes to playing freshmen. During the Don Nehlen era, a true freshman appeared on the field about as often as it snows in August. A true freshman knew his place - which was on the scout team as a redshirt. Once in a great while a first year player would sneak in under extreme circumstances, but it was rare. Nehlen’s redshirt philosophy allowed him to build the 1988 undefeated team, which played for the national championship. The roster of that squad was bloated with fifth-year seniors.

But changes over the years have led to a complete shift in the philosophy of redshirting. We’ve experienced NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, which make rosters smaller and an increased need for players on the field. We’ve seen high school seniors graduate early, enroll in January, and participate in spring practice. In essence, those players take their redshirt season in the winter and summer and are ready to go by September.

Another reason why coaches are using true freshman is because they’re getting fired quicker than ever before. Don Nehlen had the luxury of redshirting players to build for the future. Fans didn’t like it, but it was kind of understood that a six- or seven-win season was an investment for future success. That’s no longer the case in today’s world of college football. You’re expected to win now, not later. That’s why coaches are using any ammunition they have at their disposal. If a young player can make a play to help win a game then he’ll be used.

Dana Holgorsen isn’t sure how many true freshmen he’ll use this season, but he recently estimated as many as 12 could see action. That’s a staggering number when compared to the past. But it’s a new time in college football and that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a new thing.