With Chad Kelly out for the season with a torn ACL, the Ole Miss Rebels are reportedly going to start true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson tonight at Texas A&M. Patterson hadn’t played this season, and would have gotten a redshirt if he weren’t going to play the rest of the season.
The question is whether this is a good idea or not. There are conflicting opinions on this, but let’s talk about why this might actually be a good idea for Ole Miss — and why it might not be.
Is Shea Patterson the best quarterback available for Ole Miss? Let’s get the first and most obvious question out of the way. We’ll assume that Patterson is a better player than Jason Pellerin, or at least that the coaching staff thinks so. If Pellerin is actually a better player than Patterson, we can end this discussion right now and say that this is a dumb move.
Ole Miss is currently 4-5, with three games to go. How important are wins right now to Ole Miss? Pretty damn important, depending on how you view a trip to a lower-tier bowl game.
Think of this like a baseball team at the trade deadline. A team that’s 20 games out of the playoff race gets little use from trading away prospects for star players, because wins the rest of the season are not valuable to the team. A team that’s right in the thick of the playoff race, though, gets a lot of value out of wins in the present and may be willing to sacrifice wins in the future (when they don’t know if they’ll be any good) in order to win now.
The answer to this question is different if Ole Miss is 2-7; in that case, playing Patterson so that you can go 4-8 instead of 3-9 just isn’t very important. If Ole Miss were 9-0 and in contention for the Playoff, the answer is obvious: you have to play the best players you have.
Strangely, being 4-5 instead of, say, 6-3 actually means there’s more value to winning now. At 6-3, you can just play out the string because you’re going to a bowl game (but not the Playoff, or even the New Year’s Six) either way; that gets you the extra practices. But with a bowl game still being up in the air, Ole Miss gets a lot of value out of going 6-6 instead of 5-7, and if Patterson is more likely to get them there, you do it.
We have no idea how good Ole Miss will be in 2020. That’s the year that Patterson would be eligible (presumably) if Ole Miss redshirted him, but while we know wins are very valuable to Ole Miss in the present, we have no idea how valuable they will be in 2020. Speaking of which...
We don’t know what Ole Miss’s next few recruiting classes will look like. You know, Ole Miss COULD recruit another quarterback to play in 2020. I’m just saying.
What’s more, we don’t know if Patterson would still be around in 2020 either way. After all, he’s a blue-chip recruit, and blue-chip recruits often leave early for the NFL. (Stop with the “but he’s only 6 feet tall!” crap. This didn’t stop Johnny Manziel from leaving after three years.) And in today’s game, he could be a graduate transfer. Or, it’s also possible that Patterson could get hurt at some point over the next three years and have to take a redshirt year anyway.
The broader point is that we know that wins in the present are very valuable to Ole Miss, while wins in the future may or may not be, and there are steps that Hugh Freeze and his staff can take to mitigate the negative effects (such as recruiting another quarterback.) In my view, redshirts are somewhat overrated; they’re useful if a guy isn’t going to play anyway (either because he’s hurt or because he’s too far down the depth chart), but consciously not playing your best available quarterback to save him for four years down the road when you need two wins to make a bowl game? Yeah, that would be pretty dumb. Assuming Patterson really is better than Pellerin, I’m with Hugh Freeze on this one.