In a normal year, the days leading up to Labor Day weekend would be an exciting time for football fans. Although the NFL would be going through its preseason finale, college football would take center stage to feed the appetite of fans for football games that count.
As you may have seen, college football will not be happening — at least for this upcoming weekend. With the need to try to find the next great Viking and solve an overall case of football withdrawal, I’ve opted to find the next best thing during the current pandemic: NCAA Football 14.
The EA Sports franchise is one of the staples that stands out during my teenage years. I saved money (or spent what I didn’t have) to get my hands on the latest copy and played it for two months straight before Madden came out in August. It was like the unofficial kickoff to football season, but of course it didn’t last.
The game opted to use likenesses of actual players and when former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon found out, he hired some lawyers and sued until the NCAA pulled the plug. (NOTE: O’Bannon has said that EA Sports was willing to pay the players, but the NCAA was against it.)
Back then, I didn’t know how amazing this game was, but as we sit here without college football in the Midwest, the game has returned to center stage after a $160 purchase and a refurbished PlayStation 3.
The biggest example of this is the recent state of the Minnesota Gopher football program. After coming off their best season in 60 years, the Gophers were finally prepared to be legitimate Big Ten title contenders. Then the Big Ten presidents decided to cancel the fall football season, Rashod Bateman opted out and my visions of getting up on Saturdays, sitting on the couch and watching football all damn day were shattered.
But that’s where this game comes into play. Unlike a franchise mode in Madden, which has remained the same to the point Twitter followers have made #FixMaddenFranchise trend, the game’s dynasty mode opens up another world to the imagination. With the ability to recruit players, win national titles and even create custom schedules, the dynamic nature of the game keeps its value even seven years later.
For the Gophers specifically, it picks up where P.J. Fleck and his team left off thanks to the dark corners of the internet that continue to make current rosters. In the current dynasty, Minnesota got to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1962 in the first season and captured the national championship over Appalachian State in the second season. But the success on the field is only part of it.
Much like Fleck, the recruiting trail hasn’t slept during the pandemic. And much like the real life counterpart, which has netted four four-star recruits for 2021, this dynasty has had similar success with its own backstories.
Consider that Jacques Vaughn was the No. 1 rated wide receiver recruit from Ames, Iowa, and spurned his home state Hawkeyes and Cyclones to come to Minnesota. Vaughn hit the starting lineup immediately to replace Bateman, who re-wrote the program’s record book in all receiving categories. After having a modest freshman season, Vaughn tore up the Big Ten in 2023, finishing with 1,500 receiving yards, including 232 on the Hawkeyes to claim The Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
As one of the key pieces to a Gopher team in contention, Vaughn put together a massive game in the National Championship against Arizona State with two touchdowns. With Minnesota down late, Zack Annexstad tried to heave a desperation throw to Vaughn in the corner of the end zone, only to be picked off by the safety in true Minnesota sports fashion.
But that’s just the beginning with my one-track mind. Vaughn could be a super prospect that commands attention and Luke Inman could be grinding the tape to see just how he fares. With Adam Thielen‘s retirement, Vaughn is passed up by the Vikings who opt to take a seventh-string cornerback instead. As Vaughn tears up the league, Minnesota waits and take his teammate Adam Hall in the seventh round, who puts on a show in training camp and becomes Sam Ekstrom’s pick for Mr. Mankato… and it’s clear that I really need to get a life, but it’s too damn exciting to not bring this game back.
As the average price of this seven-year-old game goes for north of $100 (about the same cost of the MVP Edition of Madden 21), it seems completely foolish for the NCAA not to bring it back. Of course, the NCAA, which has stiff-armed football players into a forced three-year unpaid internship, is completely against the idea despite allowing student-athletes to make money off their likenesses beginning in 2021.
Ackerman’s claim is odd considering that the NCAA was the one granting the licenses for its schools to be featured in the games and that a union could probably be formed quickly once student-athletes got word they could make some pocket cash so they could, as in Shabazz Napier’s case, have money to eat every night. In fact, Kirk Herbstreit, who was one of the commentators on the game, actually mentioned that the NCAA is going back and forth over the same price of a copy of a game for the players that appear on it.
For football fans everywhere, there should be a reason to come to a solution. And the reason for the NCAA should be as green as the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium (because we’re talking about money). But there’s also the possibility of everything that could come with it like the slew of new uniforms, the transfer portal and new stadiums across the country.
The lack of football this season has allowed many football fans the opportunity to go back and see how great this game was. For our own football psyches, this game’s return couldn’t possibly be more anticipated.