By now, the hard-to-believe news that Houston star quarterback D’Eriq King and receiver Keith Corbin will redshirt the rest of this season to prepare for next year (still with the Cougars, supposedly) has settled in.
Here are a few thoughts on Monday’s stunning development and what it means going forward:
The closest historical comparison I can come up with was Kelly Bryant last year. He was the starting quarterback at Clemson but going to lose his job to phenom Trevor Lawrence. So after four games, Bryant left the team. The move allowed him to redshirt that season and preserve a year of eligibility at another school. “Everybody labeled it the Kelly Bryant rule,” Bryant said during SEC media days. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s good to take advantage of it.” The move worked out for both sides. Lawrence led Clemson to the national title, and Bryant is starting for Missouri.
This move, however, is different. King didn’t lose his starting job. He wasn’t injured or choosing to skip a bowl game to avoid an injury that could hurt his NFL career. He doesn’t even plan to transfer, according to his statement Monday. He’s just sitting out the rest of the season because the Cougars started 1-3 and should be better next year. This decision is, as far as I can tell, unprecedented for a player.
It is not, however, unprecedented in college football. Coaches quit for better situations all the time — not after four games, but before a season is over. Jimbo Fisher left Florida State before the final regular-season game in 2017. FSU then hired Willie Taggart, who ditched Oregon before the Ducks’ bowl game. Dan Mullen also missed Mississippi State’s bowl game during his final year to join the Gators. That doesn’t even include in-season firings (See: USC canning Lane Kiffin near the airport tarmac). If coaches and administrators can make these difficult business decisions for themselves, can you fault King for making what amounts to a difficult business decision for himself?
How does Houston recover from this for its final eight games? The Cougars’ best player just bailed four games into a season, with a division and conference championship still on the table.
Assuming King returns (and I’m skeptical he will), the best-case reconciliation looks like the one playing out at USC. Quarterback Matt Fink was in the transfer portal and reportedly close to joining Lovie Smith’s Illini before deciding to stick with the Trojans. But after a pair of injuries ahead of him, Fink led USC to a pivotal win at Utah last week. His teammates and coaches apparently didn’t care that he nearly left them.
King’s story makes Kyle Trask’s persistence seem even more impressive. Trask was King’s backup at Texas’ Manvel High, but he didn’t transfer. Nor did he leave after failing to win the starting job at Florida. Nor did he bolt after graduating last month. His patience was rewarded when Feleipe Franks’ season-ending ankle injury elevated Trask to starter — and made him a talking point for coaches across the country. “It’s a great lesson for any kid at any school in any position,” said Towson coach Rob Ambrose, who will coach against Trask this weekend.
The goal of the new redshirt rule was to allow younger players to get a little playing time or to allow a team to fill a specific void due to injury without burning a year of eligibility. King’s decision, obviously, was an unintended consequence of the rule and the next step from Bryant leaving Clemson last year. So what’s the next step after King? I have no idea. But I think the fallout is just beginning.