A lot of college football fans look forward to the annual summer release of EA Sports' NCAA football title. While NCAA's release isn't a virtual national holiday on par with the release of its NFL counterpart, for a football-starved nation of video gamers, it's a pretty big deal.
Of course the release is also generally accompanied by a fair amount of debate and message board grousing about the ratings assigned to individual players and the teams as a whole. Let me give you the Cliff's Notes version: my team and favorite players are all bigger faster and stronger than portrayed.
That is, unless you are an Alabama Crimson Tide fan. The guys over at Roll Bama Roll just posted a handy chart compiling the offensive and defensive ratings of each of the SEC schools. As you may have noticed, Alabama is rated 99 overall and 99 on both offense and defense. I'm not sure that's ever happened before. And while Alabama returns a lot of depth (somebody should really figure out how they keep doing that....) they do lose some pretty important pieces from the 2012 national title squad.
Specifically, I'm not buying that the Alabama offense will be the strongest in college football. There are four reasons for that. One is the loss of Eddie Lacy. While T.J. Yeldon was a great freshman tailback and the depth chart behind him is as stacked as it's ever been, Lacy was as good a late game bruiser as I've seen in recent years. I don't know that Yeldon's that guy, at least not yet. But more importantly Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker, and Chance Warmack formed as dominant a trio of offensive linemen as any of us are ever likely to see. Alabama returns a total of 39 starts on the offensive line, 25 belonging to guard Tony Steen and 14 to left tackle Cyrun Kouandjio. There are only 9 offensive linemen with playing experience returning period. Nearly half of the Tide offensive line unit will be composed of either true or redshirt freshmen. That's not a recipe for dominance up front. And you can't dominate in the SEC if you aren't dominant upfront.
Defensively the Gump Gang also lost a lot at key positions. Only three returning Tide defensive linemen have even played more than ten games of college football. And while nose tackle Jesse Williams struggled through some injuries in 29012, losing he Damion Square, Quinton Dial and D.J. Pettway is a big deal. And the loss of Dee Milliner and Robert Lester in the defensive backfield won't help. Don't get me wrong, Alabama has a ton of talent back there, and a decent amount of experience. But it's not enough to rate it "99 out of 100" which equates to being perhaps the best in the country. Just not seeing it.
In other SEC news, Georgia and Texas A&M are each rated 95 on offense, which sounds about right. Both will likely put up more points than the Crimson Tide, returning veteran QBs and backs. The 'Dawgs of course need to replace some significant snaps at the receiver spot, and the Aggies lost some talent on the O line, but both should have very good offensive units under the direction of renowned offensive geniuses Kevin Sumlin and Mike Bobo.
Georgia's defense being rated 88 sounds about right to me, as there's a ton of talent but it's pretty inexperienced. Il imagine the pixelated Bulldog secondary will probably bite on play action and give up some big plays, just like the real Bulldog secondary is likely to.
Rating the Tennessee offense 84 without Tyler "Cray Cray" Bray, Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, Zack Rogers, or Mychal Rivera may be charitable, especially since all those new starters will be learning Butch Jones' new offense. On the bright size, the Vol offensive line returns a collective 130 career starts and could be among the best in the league if they get the new scheme down early.
Auburn's defense the fourth best in the SEC? Que?
The Vanderbilt defense as the lowest rated unit in the whole conference doesn't necessarily make sense to me, either. That unit was the 15th rated defense in the country last season, giving up a miserly 18.7 points per game. Even a significant drop off would only place them middle of the pack in the conference.
But all in all I think the guys at Electrinic Arts got a lot more right than wrong in terms of ratings. I haven't played the game yet, so I can't say what the gameplay experience is like. But as you can see from the video below the graphics are typically gorgeous. I'm looking forward to it, and invite those of you who play the game to let us know your thoughts once you pick it up. The game will be available in stores July 9th. Until later . . .