Admit it: You miss NCAA Football on your video game platform of choice. It's fine. We think everyone does. The video game empire that is Electronic Arts ended its production of games involving college athletes' likenesses in July 2013, shortly after releasing NCAA Football 14, which featured Denard Robinson (!!!) on the cover. Despite occasional rumors that progress is being made and a comeback is imminent, there is no plan for a game any time soon. EA NCAA Football tweeted this on the day of the National Championship:
We have no new plans or announcements to make regarding the EA SPORTS NCAA Football series.— EA NCAA Football (@EANCAAFootball) January 11, 2016
One person who for sure misses the series is Justin Jackson, who tweeted this out last week:
I would pay the NCAA to make another NCAA football game... Waited my whole life to be in one of those. #salty #pleaseusemylikeness— Justin Jackson (@J_ManPrime21) April 12, 2016
So that got me thinking: How good/fun to play with would Northwestern be if NCAA Football 17 were to magically pop out of thin air this summer, sending the gaming world and the NCAA into frenzy?
In all honesty though, why on Earth would you play with NU, unless you were forced to? It's gotta be the defense. Let's start up front.
Okay, so Ifeadi Odenigbo and Xavier Washington won't match Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson from last year on the field — if they do, that'd be a major surprise. But as video game players, they're far superior: freak athletes with great burst off the ball. Plus, with Washington, you can do this:
Rest in peace, "QB #14." Odenigbo is similarly a freak athlete coming off the edge. These guys are video game beasts. Time the snap right and it's over.
Up the middle, NU is as solid as they come. Tyler Lancaster, Jordan Thompson and C.J. Robbins are those guys that will, controlled by the AI, stop the run as you play with Odenigbo and Washington and try to jump the snap.
Then you have the uber-athletic linebacking crew. Playing with Anthony Walker would be basically as fun as watching him. Imagine chasing down every running back behind the line of scrimmage when you know there's no way it would be possible based on the difference in their speed ratings. It just happens. You can't explain it to your friend, who is angrily yelling at the TV, "WHY THE HELL IS THIS DUDE FROM NORTHWESTERN RUNNING DOWN CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY?!?" He just is. Deal with it. (Side note: Surely EA could find a way to implement a Body Clock EffectTM.)
Move onto the secondary, where you've legitimately got everyone on lock. Matt Harris is picking off, or at least batting away, everything you throw at him. Keith Watkins is as solid as they come at the second cornerback slot. Godwin Igwebuike is basically the Anthony Walker of the secondary, flying around and making tackles everywhere, and Kyle Queiro is a lanky, ballhawking safety. Good luck throwing on the Sky Team.
The issue with Northwestern's defense, though, is that it would force a three/four-and-out almost every time it steps on the field. And that's not necessarily a good thing...
It's simple. Northwestern would be a very, VERY boring team to play with in a video game.
There are exactly two ways to have fun offensively in NCAA Football games:
1) Run a spread option attack with super small fast dudes.
2) Chuck the ball all over the field and never run the ball ever.
Northwestern's personnel does not set up well for either of these strategies.
Now that's not to say that there aren't some fun guys to play with. Clayton Thorson, for example, would be a fun guy to play with. A big, fast QB with some arm strength? I think he'd be like playing with Ryan Tannehill, except with a 75 overall rating. He can outrun most linebackers when he has the angle, and simple plays like "QB draw" would be really fun if he gets a lane (see: Stanford) (also see: "body clocks").
Jelani Roberts also gets a nod as a fun video game guy. He's the dude who's seventh on the depth chart, but you move him up to third ahead of a guy who's 12 overall rating points better than him because Roberts has 95 speed (don't lie, we all do it). You then run drag routes fo' days. If he catches it on the run (and if Thorson can get it to him in stride, a HUGE "if"), Roberts is already past the corner he's matched up with. YAC!!!
Still, I feel like your options are really limited. Austin Carr would be the highest-rated receiver, simply because he would have a really high catch rating. Elsewhere? The guy I like in a video game setting is Jayme Taylor, who didn't play at all last year but has a good size/speed/strength combo and can catch (and throw; see below) the ball.
To round out the wide receivers, both cornerback-turned-wide receiver Marcus McShepard and running back-turned-wide receiver Solomon Vault would be interesting pieces. McShepard can help stretch the field and Vault can do this:
Poor Justin Jackson, who inspired this piece, probably wouldn't be the most fun video game guy, despite his outstanding real-life skills. He just doesn't quite have the speed/acceleration to get past that second wave consistently. Still, I guess it would be fun to juke out three guys en-route to an eight-yard gain. Sorry Justin, you'll probably end up with about 30 carries for 120 yards. Kinda sounds like real life, huh?
Your biggest limitation playing with Northwestern, though, would be your play book. "Hmm what are my options on 1st down?" you think to yourself. Maybe you ask the game for its play suggestions. Well, it's about seven different run plays up the middle, the read option and the speed option. Same for second down. Not my fault. You were the one who chose to play with Northwestern.
Let's also take a moment to imagine what running the speed option with Northwestern would be like. You know to never run the read option on purpose, so you chose your first down run up the middle for a gain of no more than 6 but no less than 2.
And then all of the sudden, the team is realigned for 2nd down, and it's running the speed option without even asking you. "Why?!" you think to yourself. "No logical human being would ever run this play with Northwestern." Too bad. That's what computerized Mick McCall has decided for you. Thorson rolls right, with Jackson to his side. You're mashing LB to get him to pitch it to. "Is the LB button broken? Did I forget how to pitch it after two years of no NCAA games?" You desperately mash every button on the controller. You get up to break your gaming console, but then you realize this might be the last NCAA game ever. Finally, right before he touches the sideline, Thorson flicks it to Jackson, who by then has already run through the wall of the stadium, something EA Sports still hasn't figured out how to solve. You sigh to yourself, realizing third-and-12 was inevitable from the start.
How I would play
Northwestern's offense would be so much Justin Jackson if I were in control, and I'd go completely anti-videogame and try to average 4 yards per carry. It's like playing with the Redskins when they had Clinton Portis — he was a really good back with patience/vision/agility but acceleration that always led to him getting run down by 300-pound defensive linemen.
I'd be the dude you can't stand playing against because I'd go on 12-play drives that span entire five-minute quarters. JJ would be gassed, but it wouldn't matter, because Jack Mitchell would have already shanked a 28-yarder by then. I'd be the guy that literally would sit back and watch the world burn as my opponents yell at the screen because JUSTIN JACKSON KEEPS GAINING FOUR YARDS. Time of possession FTW.
Let's say Jackson gallops in from six yards out midway through the second quarter, making it 7-0. Your opponent ties it up in the early fourth. After trading a lot of four-and-outs with my opponent (even with NU, who the hell punts in a video game?), I drive down the field, and Jack Mitchell steps up. Remember, Mitchell's rating jumps from 72 during the first three quarters to 99 in the fourth quarter. So he knocks through a 36-yarder, making him 1-for-3 for the day.
My opponent crumples to the ground after the worst football video game game of all time. I bask in the glory of yet another win.
Have fun losing 10-7 to a team that ran the ball on every single play. Go U, Northwestern.