It’s been eight long years since we last got a new college football game. The NCAA Football series was shuttered due to the NCAA’s refusal to pay its athletes, but there is hope on the horizon for a new college football game in the near future. EA Sports College Football, the spiritual successor to the series, is on the way and we’ll hopefully be able to get our hands on it sometime around 2023.
While the video game has laid dormant, there has still been incredible football taking place on the field in that timespan. We’ve seen some all-time great college football players come and go without an opportunity to play as them in the virtual world with their college teams. That’s been an incredible disappointment, but there is a possible way to rectify this in the future. A feature in a lot of the old games was the ability to play as some of the classic teams from the earlier days of college football.
This means, as long as the developers can find a way to pay the players involved, we can play as some of these teams we missed out on. Of course, with 130 teams to choose from, picking who should be in won’t be easy. So we’ve decided to break it down year by year, with a handful of honorable mentions, on which teams we missed out on should be in the follow-up.
The teams picked for the list were chosen for the following reasons:
- Pick up and playability – These are teams that theoretically you could fire up the game, sit down with a friend, and go at it with one another. Anyone can go into Dynasty and turn UMass or Bowling Green into a title contender after hours and hours of play, but we want teams that would have been a popular pick in college dorms across the country.
- Fun factor – What counts as fun in a college football game can vary, but most of us have a pretty good idea of what teams and stars would not be fun to play as; if your favorite team was coached by Will Muschamp then you can safely assume they did not make this list.
- Impact on the sport – Some teams are easy to pick up, others had a fun gimmick, but a handful of teams on this list had far too much of a historical impact to not be included.
- Fun players – While real players were never “officially” in the game we all remember playing as some of college football’s greatest athletes in the old games. Having an awesome player we missed out on the chance to play is a good chance to at least end up as an honorable mention.
2014 – Ohio State
Unfortunately, we never got to experience the College Football Playoff in the video game world and that also means we didn’t get to use its first-ever champion. The 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes, led by third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, controversially snuck in as the four seed over undefeated TCU and Baylor. They proceeded to quiet any doubters about how much they belonged there by going through Alabama and Oregon to win the title. Turns out Ezekiel Elliot, Curtis Samuel, and one of the fastest offenses in the country made them a pretty good football team. All that speed would have made them an absolute blast to use in the games and we could have made some really weird playbooks utilizing their three starting-caliber quarterbacks.
Honorable Mention: 2014 Ole Miss – This team was led by fan favorite Bo “Dr. Bo.” Wallace. This Ole Miss team thrived on chaos and managed to upset Alabama in 2014.
2015 – Stanford
While everyone else would have been picking Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, or maybe even Ole Miss the true NCAA nerds would have been frustrating everyone with Stanford. Nothing in these games was more frustrating to deal with than an accurate quarterback and a running back who could catch the football. Unfortunately for anyone not using them, this team had Kevin Hogan and Christian McCaffrey to do exactly that. McCaffrey’s speed and versatility would have made a video game version of him unstoppable. There’s a reason this Stanford team finished the year ranked No. 3 in the AP poll.
Honorable Mention: 2015 Clemson – Deshaun Watson to Mike Williams would have been a cheat code.
2016 – USF
The Gulf Coast offense is what eventually would get Willie Taggart a job at Oregon, then Florida State, but it would have never worked without one of the most dynamic backfields we’d ever seen. Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack were two of the most dominant runners in the game and their ability to get out in space and make plays happen made this one of the most exciting teams in college football, in 2016. One of the greatest crimes of the NCAA football series is that we never got to use these two together in the video game world because they would have broken the game. The read option was already a powerful tool at this point and the Flowers-Mack combo probably would have forced a few broken controllers with how unstoppable they would have been running it. No matter what decision the defense made it would have been the wrong one.
Honorable Mention: 2016 Penn State – Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley would have been an incredible video game duo. This was the year they made the Rose Bowl and played in an all-timer against USC.
2017 – Louisville
This might not be when Lamar Jackson won the Heisman, but he was arguably better in his final year in school anyway. There were serious Madden 2004 Michael Vick vibes when watching Jackson’s ability to not only make magic happen with his legs, but his ability to hit the deep ball made him a true dual threat. The team around him at Louisville was good, not great, but Jackson’s one of those individual players that would have been able to overcome this on the virtual field. It’s a shame we never got to experience that.
Honorable Mention: 2017 UCF – The only undefeated team in the country in 2017 made a claim to the national title, and they were also a pretty fun team on top of that.
2018 – Clemson
Of all the Clemson teams that have gone to the Playoff, this was probably the most complete one. Trevor Lawrence was just a freshman, but he already looked like one of the best QB’s in college football as he helped them cruise to an undefeated championship campaign. With weapons like Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins to work with, there’s no way this team wouldn’t have been an auto pick for most players. The only thing holding them back is they might have been too good to be considered fun to play, but it’s hard to leave Lawerence off this list.
Honorable Mention: 2018 Army – Using the triple option in video games can be a real fun time and this Army team was one of the best to ever do it.
2019 – LSU
Being arguably the greatest team in college football history makes this LSU team an auto-lock. Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ja’Marr Chase, and Justin Jefferson were an unstoppable group of athletes. Throw in K’Lavon Chaisson on the edge with Patrick Queen manning the linebackers and the defense would have made scoring impossible. This would have been auto-ban in any dorm room outside of Baton Rouge because they were that unfair.
Honorable Mention: 2019 Kentucky – This Kentucky team wasn’t very good, but their entire offense was telling Lynn Bowden to go be an athlete and that’s the kind of gimmick that will thrive in video games.
2020 – Alabama
While not quite the same level of dominance as 2019 LSU, this Alabama team was just as stacked. Devonta Smith, the eventual winner of the Heisman, was arguably the second best receiver on the team behind an injured Jaylen Waddle. Well in video games Waddle is going to be healthy and they’ll have Mac Jones throwing them the ball. With Najee Harris in the backfield next to Jones this is a team that would have dominated virtual fields through a dynamic passing attack. Let’s pair up this group against 2019 LSU in a virtual showdown to see who comes out on top.
Honorable Mention: 2020 Ohio State – A virtual Justin Fields throwing to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson would have just felt unfair.