The redshirt conundrum

Updated: February 16, 2011, 4:24 PM ET
By Ryan McGee

OK, first things first. Yes, it's my birthday. And yes, it's Mike Gundy's birthday. So let's go on and get this out of the way and click here.

Last spring I was up at the WWL headquarters in Bristol, Conn., and coach Gundy was in town to do the ESPN car wash in advance of the season. I ended up in line behind him at the cafeteria and asked him about his infamous rant. He said when I turned forty I should come to Stillwater and he'd shout it at me. But alas, it is a Tuesday and I'm headed to Virginia Tech this week.

But I appreciate the offer, coach.

Speaking of Virginia Tech, we begin our Three Downs and Punt with a story that could end up being rather large for the Hokies' ACC title hopes.

First Down: The Redshirt Conundrum

Last fall I wrote an ESPN The Magazine feature on the art of redshirting. Knowing when and when not to redshirt a player is equal parts gut instinct, math and fortune-telling ability. It's not unlike being an orchestra conductor, knowing when to bring in the oboes at the right time but also knowing when to tell them to stick their instruments in their cases and go away until you really need them.

Use your redshirts correctly and you end up with a roster packed with wily five-year veterans. Burn them quickly and/or randomly and the wait can backfire.

"It's like these guys that you see that set up these giant rooms full of dominos," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe explained to me when I was writing the story. "If everything goes to plan the end result is a beautiful thing. But if a domino gets broken or lost or someone knocks one down too early, it can be a mess. It's the kind of thing that keeps a coach up all night."

So it was with great interest that I monitored the facial expressions of Miami head coach Randy Shannon after star quarterback Jacory Harris was knocked out of Saturday's game at Virginia in the second quarter.

As a concussed Harris was helped off the field, Shannon was in fix-the-dominos mode, suddenly forced to not only coach the game but simultaneously monitor Harris' condition, juggle his lineup and -- as crazy as it seems -- run through the Hurricanes' upcoming schedule and attempt to mentally navigate his school's now rerouted road to the ACC championship game.