It's hard to imagine a sport complemented more richly by its video games than football. Football on television is largely a mash of bodies with one guy trying to run from one side of the screen to the other and usually falling down somewhere around the middle. That or the QB drops back behind another mash of bodies then heave-hos to an unseen receiver, who may or may not have a defender very close to him and may or may not catch the ball. To an untrained eye, it's little more than a chaotic mess. And even if you enjoy the sport, there are precious few days when you'll get to actually watch your favorite team play in a given year; you get 12-14 opportunities for a college team and 16-20 for an NFL team. That's 36-60 hours of live football for your favorite team. All year long.
Ah, but with video game football, not only do you get massively more football than before, but you get a fairly thorough education in play calling and personnel strategy at the same time. Sure, no game's ever been perfect and video game football is as much about exploiting weaknesses in the game's programming as it is in your opponent's play calling, but thanks to video game football, there are likely millions of people, male and female, who know far more about throwing against a zone or reading an option than they would by just watching on television. A more informed fan base is a more involved fan base, and thus it's no real surprise that football has supplanted baseball as the dominant sport in America today.
All of which is a particularly long-winded way of saying NCAA Football 14 is coming.
The particular allure of the different iterations of NCAA Football is that fans of every college football program (except for Illinois, which does not have football fans) get to see EA's evaluations of their teams and their players on a year-to-year basis. We've already talked about Iowa's top 2014 player ratings and who's underrated and overrated, and while EA didn't do a perfect job on that front, their ability to craft accurate likenesses of roughly 10,000 college football players every single year is a Herculean task and one the company deserves a ton of credit for. They get close enough on just about every single one—the number, class, appearance, physical attributes, skills, and even state of birth. Isn't that amazing? That's Keeping It Real.
But let's talk about the Iowa numbers that caused more consternation among the Internet at large: the team ratings. As you might recall, Iowa got an 88 overall rating in the game, tied with several other teams for 25th best overall ranking (just a hunch: a giant logjam at the last spot in the Top 25 is not a coincidence). People didn't much care for that evaluation based on last year, but folks, we're not talking about NCAA Football 13 here. That's last year's news. This is all about the season upcoming, and you know what? EA might be right.
HEAR ME OUT.
The 88 offensive rating seems a bit excessive, but nobody could be as bad at QB as James Vandenberg was last year (and there's no shortage of contenders for the starting role, so the idea that competition raises the level of play is in play here). The line is more experienced and far healthier than it was during the slide at the end of last season. There's (gasp) depth at tailback and some young, intriguing options at wideout. We're not predicting 35 points a game, but there's some potential there—particularly if Jake Rudock or Cody Sokol is the real deal.
On defense, a 90 rating might seem high too. There's only about a dozen defenses rated higher in NCAA 14, and even if you assume Iowa's the worst of the defenses rated 90 (like they're an 89.5, I guess?), that's still Top 20 territory.
But look at it from EA's perspective: If you believe that Tanner Miller and Dominic Alvis merit some of the best ratings on the entire team, then you can look at the rest of the Iowa defense and see returning starters basically everywhere else and operate under the belief that this Iowa defense is kinda loaded. And it is, kinda. If Miller cuts down on the misreads and Iowa's front four blossoms into the cohesive, deep unit it has the potential to be, there's a lot of improvement to be made.
Put it this way: One of Phil Steele's prediction models had Iowa going 9-3. Yes, another had 2-10, but if one of Steele's models had a borderline Top 25 outcome for Iowa, who's to say it's out of line for EA to come to a similar conclusion? Just keepin' it real.
Now, here's the fun part. Now you as commenters get to KEEP IT REAL in the comment section, because we're all about that keepin' it real life right here, and the commenter who KEEPs IT the REALest will help take part in the second EA Sports post coming next week. What's up with that post, you ask? It's a surprise! But it'll be fun. So KEEP IT REAL until you OR (overREAL) and/or barf. It's good for you.