Cal’s heralded freshman RB Brendan Bigelow to see playing time Saturday against Presbyterian in surprise move


Cal fans unable to attend this Saturday’s home opener at AT&T Park against Presbyterian now have more reason to pay the $7.95 to have the game streamed online to their computer.

Running back Brenden Bigelow will see his first dose of playing time, head coach Jeff Tedford announced on Tuesday, according to Jonathan Okanes of the Mercury News.

All indications pointed to Bigelow redshirting this season.  He has spent the last two seasons recovering from two knee surgeries, including a torn ACL late in his junior season of high school.  Out of fall camp, Bigelow didn’t crack the top 3 of the depth chart at RB, making it more likely that Tedford save a season of his eligibility.  Though I wanted to see Bigelow this season, redshirting him made sense when you couple it with a full year of added recovery to his knee.

But Tedford said things have changed.  From Okanes:

"But not playing for almost two years took its toll on Bigelow, who was hesitant to really cut it loose during training camp and was also adjusting to wearing a bulky brace on his knee.Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson remain Cal’s top two running backs, but Bigelow could start pushing Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.“Physically, it looks like he’s made the turn as far as being able to run full speed and cut,” said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who added he’s planning to get Bigelow some playing time Saturday. “He feels comfortable doing it.”"

In an earlier post back in July regarding Cal’s depth chart at RB, I argued that for a variety of reasons — a lack of talent and play-making ability in the backfield, an inconsistent offensive line, and a lack of depth — Bigelow would have every opportunity to move up the depth chart by mid season if he can just show that he is completely healthy and avoid the redshirt. In short, Tedford has demonstrated he is not shy about playing talented running backs as true freshmen (Lynch and Best, for example) and is not content with Isi Sofele as the main back.

I don’t see this as anything other than a win-win for Cal.   The only concern would be Bigelow’s health, which has surely been monitored closely and has been signed off on as ready for game action.  I suppose if Bigelow re-injures the knee, we can all, in retrospect, argue it would have been better to let him just practice and redshirt for an entire year.

My reflexive concern after the news was possibly wasting a year of Bigelow’s eligibility, but on further thought, it shouldn’t be.  Bigelow will be eligible for the NFL draft after the 2013 season regardless of whether he redshirts or not.  To be eligible for the NFL draft a player simply needs to be three years removed from his high school graduation.  So, in Bigelow’s case, had he been redshirted, would still be eligible for the draft after his sophomore year.

By getting a look at Bigelow now, Cal might get three productive seasons out of Bigelow rather than two.  If Bigelow is the real deal, he will be gone after his third year regardless.  After watching highlights from high school, Bigelow runs a lot like Reggie Bush.

I don’t see any reason, if healthy, that Bigelow asserts himself in the coming weeks as the best back on the team. Tedford will want to be sure Bigelow can handle all the responsibilities of being a featured back — plays, blocking assignments, etc. — before he annoints Bigelow the starter, but it should be clear that Tedford wants Bigelow to seize this opportunity.

Cal needs him.  And they need him now.