BLACKSBURG, Va. – Midway through the season, Atlantic Coast Conference coaches are being forced to rethink decisions about whether to use true freshmen or redshirt them.
The choice often comes down to is the player ready and what the team needs.
At Boston College, after Virginia Tech made quarterback Dave Shinskie look lost in a 19-0 victory, coach Frank Spaziani named highly touted true freshman Chase Rettig his starting quarterback for the fourth game at Notre Dame. Rettig was injured, but Spaziani said it was the necessary move.
"The needs of the team usually are the over-riding factor," he said this week. He added that while it would be ideal to be able to have every true freshman sit out the season, it would not be fair to fourth- and fifth-year seniors to not use the best options available.
Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech is hoping to take a different route with Chase Williams.
The 6-foot-1, 231-pound linebacker is the son of New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and has not played. He's halfway toward using the year to get bigger, stronger and faster — and possibly more prepared to excel the next four seasons.
But Williams might be the next best option for Beamer if the Hokies lose another frontline linebacker to injury. Barquell Rivers, a starter in 2009, hasn't played and may wind up applying for a medical redshirt, and Lorenzo Williams is already out for the season.
Beamer is content to sit Williams now, but with the Hokies contending for the ACC title and a spot in a multi-million dollar BCS game, another injury might cause him to reconsider.
"Right now, I think it would take an injury for us to even consider where he is," Beamer said of Williams. "I think he's got a good future. You want to make sure you do what's right for him and what's right for the football team.
"That's a hard question."
It's also one most coaches like to try to make as soon as possible, even though they don't have to submit a list of players that redshirted until the season ends.
They also have different standards for how much playing time a freshman will get to consider it a worthwhile investment.
At Miami, coach Randy Shannon looks to see if they can help on special teams.
"If they're helping us, or can help us, on special teams and giving us some way to help win games, then we'll burn the redshirt," the Hurricanes' coach said. "But if we're not sure that they can't help us, if they might not be totally ready, then we'll redshirt them."
Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech said there's no exact science in making the decision.
"We have had a few guys in the last couple of years that we probably should have redshirted them, but as a head coach sometimes you get talked into it" by coaches, he said. "'I have to have this guy. We are going to use him.' Then you get halfway through the season and the kid has played five snaps other than special teams. Once you make that decision, and you do it the first game, you are locked in and there is no going back from there."
Johnson's new defensive coordinator, former Virginia coach Al Groh, liked to say "when they're ready, we're ready," and many times burned player's redshirts late in the season.
Often, those players played sparingly, but still lost a year of eligibility.
"I'm seeing there's a bunch of guys that should have had the benefit of being redshirted," new Cavaliers coach Mike London said of the team he took over in December.
He has used two true freshmen this year, but is unlikely to play any others.
Virginia just lost starting tight end Joe Torchia for the season to a shoulder injury that will require surgery, but London said his two freshman tight ends are off limits.
"I think Jake McGee and Zach Swanson, I think they're going to be really, really good tight ends. At this point, if I take that redshirt right now, it's a year of development that I'll lose from them because right now, our strength guy has got them and they're in the mindset of getting bigger, faster, stronger and not worrying about the plays. Now, if you play a guy, he's got to worry about the plays.
"At this point, it's not worth it to me."
London, however, also cautioned before the season started that the Cavaliers would struggle, and made it clear that building up his roster would be a large priority. In essence, he's applying the widely held view that redshirting is the best way to do it.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe isn't sure he has that option.
"You get into five or six games deep, you really don't like to have to do that," he said of burning a redshirt. "Unfortunately, with scholarship limitations and injury bugs, you can get so low at a position that you really have no choice. You take a private school like we are, we don't have an enormous number of walk-ons. So we can't fix it with a walk-on."
In Boston, some question why Spaziani is considering playing Rettig anymore this season when the school could probably successfully argue that he warrants a medical redshirt.
That option exists for a player who has played in four or fewer of the team's first six games, said Tim Parker, Virginia Tech's senior assistant athletic director for compliance.
Spaziani, though, with a 10-8 record at B.C., may not feel he has that option.
"You want to win," he said. "You've got to win every Saturday."
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston, Tim Reynolds in Miami, Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., and David Ginsburg in College Park, Md., and Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins in Clemson, S.C., Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., and George Henry in Atlanta contributed to this report.