FOX Sports College Football Analyst
NCAA football might be back before Texas is: “EA Sports College Football,” anyway.
EA Sports, the video game developer, will partner with players to allow them to participate in the game with their name, image and likeness, which is precisely the reason why the game was suspended after the release of “NCAA Football ’14”.
This is how the sport has changed.
The new game will be released in the summer of 2024, more than a decade after its last release in 2013.
For me, this is the return of a moment that I have always loved. The annual release of the game signaled that college football was right around the corner and that I would be sitting with friends for hours in front of a console as we made our way to glory.
In the sport I love the most, this video game allowed me to not only take full control of my Oklahoma Sooners, from play calling to recruiting and running plays, but also play out my fantasy football.
If you played against me, you’d see five hot wide routes at the line. I ran a Backyard Air Raid plan with a base on the quarterback. I would mail the CPU and go on routes, waiting for the gap to appear in the middle of the field. Then it would be 1-on-1 with the QB spy and he would get what he really wanted: me on the joystick in the head with the linebacker, so he could put you on skates; spin, sprint and juke downfield because I got it that way.
Defense? That was the CPU’s job until you put the ball in the air. Then pick off the nearest defender and get him into Gimme Dat coverage. Take your pick, and you’ll be lucky if all I do is take it back for six because I’m probably standing at my coffee table talking noise, too much hype.
Like most middle-aged esports players, I believe anything is possible with a controller in my hands. No team I control can lose. No opponent I play against can beat me.
And in case they do, we all know the computer was cheating.
This game made playing quarterback at Big Time U accessible to you and me. This game taught me how to read coverage, count the box, and never extend an offer until the player you’re recruiting has announced you’re in the top three.
This was my childhood, my adolescence, where I learned to have confidence in my ability to execute. I spent hours creating rosters, studying playbooks, and manipulating player stats to make sure I had speed and awareness at each position—the process was the prize.
I still do this from time to time. I still have a PS3 so I can play a copy of NCAA ’14.
The imminent release of a new version of this beloved game underscores the change we’ve seen in the sport. Since we last had it, the Bowl Championship Series has been replaced by the College Football Playoff; the transfer portal was invented; roster overhauls look more like the NFL than ever before; Clemson has become a superpower; a walk-on named Baker Mayfield won the Heisman; a walk-on named Stetson Bennett led Georgia to its first national title in four decades, then took it back; Tennessee beat Alabama; Texas Christian played for the national title; Oklahoma and Texas have joined the SEC, and USC and UCLA have joined the Big Ten.
But despite everything, Texas is still not back. As an Oklahoma fan, some things may never change.
Now that we’ve broken down how big it is that “EA Sports College Football ’24” is coming back, let’s talk about who should be on the cover. Here are my top five picks.
5. Caleb WilliamsUSC
The 2022 Heisman winner is already ranked No. 1 in the 2024 NFL Draft. He is the most dynamic player at the game’s most important position. He’s the epitome of how I’ve played this game: with the quarterback on a joystick, calling hot routes to the line on empty sets, waiting for linebackers and safeties to clear the middle of the field so he could give the my best friend ron sticks
4. Trevor LawrenceClemson
He is the first player since Jamelle Holieway to lead his program to the national title as a true freshman. He defeated one of the top five football teams in history in a national championship and was the first to go 15-0. He’s one of the best players never to win the Heisman, an example of what college football traditionalists (read: old heads) want the sport to be.
3. Joe Burrow, LSU
He wasn’t the best player on the best team LSU ever played. But he was the one with the most arrogance, the most confidence, the most dejected. He led LSU to an undefeated crown en route to joining Clemson as one of the greatest teams the sport has ever seen.
We may not see another person pass for over 5,000 yards with 60 TDs and six INTs on an undefeated national title team in our lifetime. But if we do, we’ll remember that Burrow did it first.
2. Stetson BennettGeorgia
He is the only quarterback to lead his team to back-to-back national titles in the CFP era and the first to accomplish the feat since AJ McCarron did it at Alabama (2011, 2012). But while McCarron was a highly-coveted recruit who fell into the national machine that is Alabama, Bennett was a walk-on who led UGA to its first national title in 40 years. And then he ran it again.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
He is the best coach in the history of the sport. This man changed the way college football is played, recruited, financed and evaluated. Through it all: readjustment, NIL, transfer portal, immediate post-transfer eligibility, BCS to CFP, this septuagenarian from Fairmont, West Virginia has bent the sport to his invincible will.
He’s the man who taught Kirby Smart how to build a national champion in the modern game. With seven national titles, all since the turn of the century, he has more than Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne, John McKay, Woody Hayes, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne.
A college football game worthy of our money and support is on its way. Anything can happen, even Texas coming back.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The number one college football show.“Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young i subscribe to “The Number One College Football Show” on YouTube.
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