The Minnesota Golden Gophers football team is on the cusp of at least seven players losing their redshirt season against Purdue on Saturday.

The four-game redshirt rule, which the NCAA implemented in 2018, is back in effect this season after all eligibility was waived during last year’s pandemic. The rule change created a surplus of players — a backlog of first- to third-year newcomers and the retention of fifth- to seventh-year veterans. Of Minnesota’s 119-man roster, Minnesota has nearly 80 players from the 2019-21 recruiting classes and roughly 20 from the 2015-17 classes.

The Gophers have been given permission to go over the 85-scholarship limit this season. They currently are at 95, but must get back down to 85 next season. With transfers allowed the freedom to go to other schools one time without having to sit out, plus players being eligible to go the NFL after three seasons, Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck said it has made for a more-complex roster management situation, and he speculated some programs could lose up to 60 players in a year.

“We want to play these guys in four” games, Fleck said of the limit to keep a redshirt season for players. “But the roster management part of that — who’s leaving, who’s staying and the fluidity of that — is very different this year than it normally has been. I think it’s harder to do that than it’s ever been. But if we’ve got guys who can play, we’re going to play ’em.”

The younger members of the group on the cusp of removing their redshirts are first-year cornerback Justin Walley, and six second-year freshmen — receiver Daniel Jackson, safety Michael Dixon, cornerback Jalen Glaze, defensive end Danny Striggow, linebacker Lucas Finnessy and punter Mark Crawford.

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First-year freshman running back Mar’Keise “Bucko” Irving and receiver Brady Boyd both have played in three games. No one else in the 2021 class has played in one of the opening four games this season.

Second-year freshman linebacker Cody Lindenberg and cornerback Miles Fleming also have played three games apiece, but both have suffered lower-leg injuries. If those setbacks are season-altering, the timing could end up helping Lindenberg and Fleming with more eligibility in future years.

Walley was named Mr. Mississippi for that state’s big-school (Class 6A) division last year, and his older brother, Jaden, is a second-year receiver at Ole Miss who made the all-SEC freshmen team in 2020. Justin has levied big hits, made hustle plays and broken up passes in his early action.

“There’s a lot of adaptation to happen for a true freshman to play,” Fleck said. “I think Justin Walley has hit it head-on and done a really good job of making himself better, but also making the other people around him better. You talk about leaders: If people were to vote on who’s one of the best leaders in that class, Justin would be right at the top of the list.”

Irving quickly climbed the depth chart this season. It was the combination of all-Big Ten running back Mo Ibrahim being lost of the season and Irving’s impressive performances in Minnesota's Sunday Night Football scrimmages for young players.

“Bucko made a run of about 80 yards and made about seven people miss and finished it,” Fleck recalled on KFAN show last week. “At that point, we were like, ‘Bucko is done with this.’ ”

Cornerback Coney Durr recalled, “I ain’t never seen nothing like that in my five years since we’ve been doing it. … That kid is going to be exciting.”

Irving made a tide-turning 41-yard kickoff return in the win over Miami (Ohio) in Week 2 and then ran the ball 15 times for 89 yards in the Week 3 victory over Colorado. He is the No. 2 running back, behind Trey Potts, and shedding his redshirt appears to be only a matter of time.

Boyd is a receiver who played high-level high school football in Texas, and due to injuries to other players and his impressive start, he was targeted in the season opener against Ohio State but dropped the pass. He has come back to play in two other games.

But Minnesota needing to use a brand-new player like Boyd is part of the reason the passing game has struggled, which came to a head in last week’s upset loss to Bowling Green.

Other young Gophers have been introduced in different ways. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi is high on second-year safety Michael Dixon. He stared one game due to Jordan Howden’s injury, and has rotated in other games to prepare him in case he’s asked to contribute more sooner. This also means first-year defensive back Darius Green has had to wait.

“Darius Green is going to be a really good player here,” Fleck said. “He’s a true freshman; I’d love to redshirt him, depending on how well that works and what happens next year.”

The Gophers’ support and recruiting staff staff has been trying to gauge who’s coming back for next season, who might move in the transfer portal and how many players they could add above the NCAA threshold of 25 recruits in future classes. Right now, it’s a moving target, and that will include the game action Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind.

“Sometimes you have to react and see how things play out during the season,” Rossi said. “I think it’s unique, but everyone goes through it.”