Houston quarterback D'Eriq King -- along with senior receiver Keith Corbin -- decided to take a redshirt after the Cougars' disastrous 1-3 start. King, a senior, will sit out the rest of the 2019 season and said he will return to Houston in 2020. All in all, it's a stunning turn of events for one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks.
"I'm staying here," King said. "If I wanted to leave Houston and go somewhere else, I could have. I think me being here is what I want to do, and it's the best opportunity for me. I don't think anybody will reach out to me [to convince me to transfer]. Even if they do, they should know I'm staying here."
While the Cougars have gotten off to a poor start in Dana Holgorsen's first season as head coach, King has thrown for 663 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 312 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He broke Tim Tebow's record for most consecutive games with a passing and rushing touchdown (15).
Holgorsen, meanwhile, insists the Cougars aren't giving up on 2019. Confused yet? Let's break down the major questions at play here:
Why did D'Eriq King do this now?
King is using a rule enacted prior to the 2018 season that allows athletes to participate in up to four games during a season while still maintaining their redshirt.
He saw action in his true freshman season in 2016 and still hasn't used his redshirt as of now. By sitting out the rest of the season, he can use this season as a redshirt and still have his final year of eligibility to use in 2020.
The rule does not discriminate against the number of years spent in a program, so it applies not just to true freshmen, but to any player who has not participated in more than four games in a single season.
Last year, Alabama coach Nick Saban alluded to this exact situation.
"Now, I think that people are manipulating the rule in terms of older players who may be thinking, 'I could be a graduate transfer, so maybe if I only play in four games this year, I'll have a place to play next year,'" Saban said. "I don't think that was really the intent of the rule. It's probably one of those unintended consequences of what all rules sort of bring."
Initially, coaches thought this might be a good opportunity for freshmen, or veteran players, who participated in a few games during a season but needed a redshirt year, as to not waste an entire year of eligibility. Whether that was through development or an injury, many coaches were excited about the potential to preserve playing time if needed.
"I think, No. 1, every place I've ever coached my entire life, a kid has a story that he played 15 snaps because there was an injury. He played 15 snaps or 30 snaps and lost an entire year because of it. It's not fair to him, because he had to do it because of the injury, so now kids are safe from that," an ACC coach said in 2018. "I also think a lot of coaches, especially in nonconference play, will be a lot more apt to play those borderline freshmen. Maybe he gets a taste of live action, he plays better with the motivation of playing time, and as a coach, you're not so worried about burning that kid's redshirt."
Can King still transfer if he changes his mind?
Yes. King can still transfer after this season if he decides he has better options elsewhere. As of right now, King has not entered his name in the transfer portal, though, so other schools are not allowed to contact him and recruit him.
Although the rules say opposing coaches can't contact King, Holgorsen is skeptical.
"He's a special player, and there's a lot of coaches out there that cheat," Holgorsen said. "But all indications are that he's not going in the transfer portal. So, if he's not going in the transfer portal, it's kinda against NCAA rules and regulations to be pursuing that, so to speak.
"I got no reason to believe that. I've never got the impression that D'Eriq is leading me astray in anything in the last nine months. He's a wonderful kid, he's a Houstonian. He's a Houston Cougar. He chose to come to this school."
As of right now, both King and Holgorsen are operating under a verbal, non-binding agreement that King will stay for his final year of eligibility in 2020.
Wait, so is Houston tanking?
Unlike in professional sports, of course, there are no draft picks to be gained by tanking. But are the Cougars hoping to save the final year of eligibility for King and Corbin, while giving Holgorsen an extra year to get his players and system into the program? With a long-term contract in hand and a 1-3 record to start the year, is Holgorsen already looking to 2020?
The head coach, not surprisingly, vehemently denies that.
"I can assure you that whoever is saying that was not at our practice last night, was not in our meetings on Sunday night, these long coaches meetings that we had preparing for a game," Holgorsen said. "We're full go ahead on playing a game this weekend. So that to me, is absolute nonsense."
"We've got kids that we've recruited to come into program that we have confidence in that can play at a high level," Houston AD Chris Pezman added. "We've got a lot of confidence in our coaching staff and everybody else that's on the team and in the program."
Corbin and King describe the situation more as preparing themselves for the future, rather than giving up on their team or throwing in the towel. That with a new coach, they are doing what they believe is best for them and their career.
"I'm still going to come out here and practice hard to develop into the best player I can be," Corbin said. "I'm gonna give my young receivers advice...to come out and finish this season. It's not over. I'm just doing what's best for me, best for the team, best for the future."
Has this happened before?
This is the first time a starting quarterback has decided to redshirt after four games with the intentions of not transferring.
It isn't the first time a player has used the four-game redshirt rule to his advantage, though.
Former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant left the Tigers after four games last year when lost his job to then true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Bryant ended up at Missouri, while Lawrence led Clemson to the national title.
Like King, Bryant was also in his fourth season at Clemson and is now in his final season of eligibility with Missouri.
Oklahoma State receiver Jalen McCleskey and Auburn receiver Nate Craig-Myers were two other players in 2018 who used this redshirt rule to preserve an extra season of eligibility before eventually leaving.
"If I was just to throw something out there, probably should be a rule that would be consistent within your first two years of eligibility," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after McCleskey's transfer. "So the NCAA's going to have to take a hard look, because right now the rules, forget Jalen's situation, the rules don't allow us to add a number to that. So let's say you had five guys do it, well I'm playing with 80 instead of 85 on scholarship now and I can't replace those numbers, even at the semester."
Oddly enough, McCleskey transferred to Tulane where he caught four passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns against King's Houston team, including a 53-yard touchdown within the final seconds of the game. Craig-Myers transferred to Colorado State, where he has five receptions for 88 yards this season.
Can anyone transfer and play right away?
Anyone can transfer, and anyone can use the redshirt rule. The transfer rules, however, still apply.
If a player is transferring and has graduated, then he is a graduate transfer and is eligible at his new institution immediately for the next season. If a player has not graduated and elects to transfer, then they are required by the NCAA to sit out one season at the new program.
The NCAA approved certain waivers of non-graduates this past offseason, allowing quarterbacks Justin Fields (Ohio State) and Tate Martell (Miami) to play right away, but declined others, including Illinois tight end Luke Ford and Virginia Tech offensive lineman Brock Hoffman.
That waiver process has been criticized for not having a clear sense of what is an approved case and what is not deemed worthy of immediate eligibility.
If King does decide to leave Houston after this season, he would be entering his fifth year of eligibility and would be a graduate transfer, so he would not have to sit out a year.
What would King's market be like if he transferred?
The spot for talented transfer quarterbacks to land has been Oklahoma, as Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray -- both Heisman winners and first overall picks in the NFL draft -- as well as former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts have thrived after landing in Norman.
Hurts' eligibility is up after this season, so there will technically be a spot at Oklahoma, but the Sooners also have Tanner Mordecai and true freshman Spencer Rattler on the roster. Both are capable of running the offense.
Plus, there will likely be a lot of competition if Oklahoma decides it does have interest in King. His junior season in 2018, King threw for 2,982 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing for 674 yards and 14 touchdowns.
A lot of schools could use a quarterback with that type of production. For instance, King's former head coach, Major Applewhite, is currently an analyst at Alabama. Current starter Tua Tagovailoa is eligible for the NFL draft, so the Crimson Tide could be interested.
King's 2018 offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles, is now the offensive coordinator at Florida State.