I thought I'd tee up a potential topic for a Mathlete-like analysis: redshirting. The question is: how much does it "cost" to burn a redshirt? By "cost," I am referring to the projected value of the fifth year that never happens, minus the value contributed during the player's true freshman year.
Obviously, the value of the fifth year can only be estimated. But the costliest burned redshirts are the ones where we have a lot of data confimring that the player was excellent. By January 2013, we'll have three years of data on the value of Denard Robinson as a starter. If you take Denard's performance as a starter, and subtract his actual contributions as a true freshman, you get a decent estimate of what was lost by not redshirting him.
Now, you could argue that with no other QBs on the 2009 roster who could run the spread, Michigan didn't have a realistic choice except to play both Robinson and Forcier in their true freshman seasons. Still, it was not without a cost.
Robinson at least made a substantial contribution as a freshman, although not as much as he would later on. Will Campbell made almost no contribution at all. Michigan didn't have to play Campbell. If Big Will is the starting nose tackle this year, the cost of his burned redshirt will be very high indeed.
So this is another aspect of cost. A costly redshirt is not just one where the player's production as a senior was much higher than his production as a freshman (which is true of many players), but also where the team realistically could have redshirted him, but failed to do so.
If you look at current rising true sophomores (players whose redshirts were burned last year), Blake Countess was probably a "good" burned redshirt, because he saw very substantial playing time, and in fact was the starter by the end of the year. I'll assume that if you're the best guy on the team at your position, then you shouldn't be on the bench, regardless of what class you're in.
But Thomas Rawls was a "bad" burned redshirt, because he contributed almost nothing last year, and now we lose the option of his fifth year. Of course, by 2015 someone else may have surpassed Rawls anyway. But if he's a superstar by his senior year, people will look back wistfully on the handful of meaningless snaps he played as a true freshman.
Another useful category is a player like Brandin Hawthorne. He's a rising senior who burned his redshirt, but he's not a superstar. He's just a guy. Michigan will always have another linebacker to plug in who is at least as good as Brandin Hawthorne, so I don't think anyone will be weeping over the fifth year that wasn't.
That brings me to the two elephants in the room, Devin Gardner and Shane Morris. If Gardner doesn't get his injury waiver, he might be the costliest burned redshirt on the whole team: all of his freshman snaps were meaningless, but there's a very good chance he'd be the 2014 starter if he had a fifth year.
Brian answered a mailbag question yesterday, about whether Shane Morris "would accept" a redshirt, as if it's Morris's decision. Actually, I suspect Morris is smart enough to know that the likely value of starting in 2017 as a fifth-year senior (or at least having the option to do so) is considerably more than the value of playing a few backup and garbage-time snaps behind Devin Gardner in 2013. Unless Morris is good enough to actually beat out Gardner (and Russell Bellomy too), he ought to be begging to redshirt.
So, those are the outlines of a possible quantitative study that the Mathlete might take on. You could assign a cost to each burned redshirt, with particularly "expensive" ones being those where: A) The player did very little as a freshman, and there was no real pressing need to use him; and, B) The player was a superstar by his senior season, and was precluded from playing a fifth year.