Who should be on the cover of ‘EA Sports College Football’?

NCAA football might be back before Texas is — “EA Sports College Football”, anyway.

EA Sports, the video game developer, will partner with players to allow them to opt into the game using their name, image and likeness — which is precisely the reason the game was discontinued after the release of “NCAA Football ‘14”.

That’s how much the sport has changed.

The new game is set to release in the summer of 2024, more than a decade after it last came out in 2013.

For me, this is the return of a moment I always cherished. The game’s annual launch signaled that college football was around the corner, and I would sit with friends for hours in front of a console as we embarked on our road to glory.

In the sport I love most, this video game allowed me to not just take complete control of my Oklahoma Sooners — from play-calling to recruitment to play execution — but play out my football fantasy.

If you were playing against me, you’d see five wide, hot routes called at the line. I ran a Backyard Air Raid scheme with a point guard at quarterback. I’d send the CPU out in post and go routes, waiting for the void to appear in the middle of the field. Then I’d be 1-on-1 with the QB spy and get what I actually wanted: Me on the joystick heads up with the linebacker, so I could put you on skates; spin, sprint and juke downfield because I got it like that.

Defense? That was the CPU’s job until you put the ball in the air. Then it’s select the nearest defender and roll him into that Gimme Dat coverage. Pick, and you’re lucky if all I do is take it back for six because I’m probably standing up on my coffee table talking noise, too hype.

Like most middle-aged sports gamers, I believe anything is possible with a controller in my hands. No team I control can lose. No opponent I play against can beat me.

And, on the off chance that they do, we all know the computer was cheating.

This game made playing quarterback at Big Time U accessible to me and you. This game taught me to read coverage, to count the box, and to never extend an offer until the player you’re recruiting has announced that you’re in his top three.

This was my childhood, my adolescence, where I learned to be confident in my ability to execute. I spent hours building rosters, studying playbooks, and manipulating player stats to make sure I had speed and awareness at every position — the process was the prize.

I still do this from time to time. I still own a PS3, so I can play a copy of NCAA ‘14.

The impending release of a new version of this beloved game underscores just how much change we’ve seen in the sport. Since we last had it, the Bowl Championship Series has been replaced with the College Football Playoff; the transfer portal was invented; roster overhauls look more like the NFL than ever; Clemson has become a superpower; a walk-on named Baker Mayfield won the Heisman; a walk-on named Stetson Bennett led Georgia to its first national title in four decades — and then ran it back; Tennessee beat Alabama; Texas Christian played in the national title game; Oklahoma and Texas have joined the SEC, and USC and UCLA have joined the Big Ten.

But through it all, Texas still isn’t back. As an Oklahoma fan, may some things never change.

Now that we’ve broken down how great it is that “EA Sports College Football ‘24” is returning, let’s talk about who should be on the cover. Here are my top five choices.

5. Caleb Williams, USC

The 2022 Heisman winner is already slotted as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. He is the most dynamic player at the game’s most important position. He’s the manifestation of how I played this game — with the quarterback on a joystick, calling hot routes at the line in empty sets, waiting for linebackers and safeties to void the middle of the field so I could give my best friend Ron fits on the sticks.

4. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

He’s the first player since Jamelle Holieway to lead his program to the national title as a true freshman. He quarterbacked one of the five best football teams in history to a national championship and was the first to go 15-0. He is one of the best players ever not to win the Heisman, an example of what college football traditionalists (read: old heads) want the sport to be.

3. Joe Burrow, LSU

He was not the best player on the best team that LSU ever fielded. But he was the one with the most swagger, the most confidence, the most get-down. He led LSU to an undefeated crown en route to joining Clemson as one of the best teams the sport has seen.

We might not see another person pass for more than 5,000 yards with 60 TDs and six INTs on an undefeated national title team in our lifetime. But if we do, we’ll remember that Burrow did it first.

2. Stetson Bennett, Georgia

He is the only quarterback to lead his team to back-to-back national titles in the CFP era and the first to accomplish that feat since A.J. McCarron did it at Alabama (2011, 2012). But while McCarron was a highly-coveted recruit who fell into the national machine that is Alabama, Bennett was a walk-on who led UGA to its first national title in 40 years. And then he ran it back.

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

He is the greatest coach in the history of the sport. This man changed the way college football is played, recruited, funded and evaluated. Through it all — realignment, NIL, transfer portal, immediate eligibility upon transferring, the BCS to the CFP, this septuagenarian from Fairmont, West Virginia, has bent the sport to his unconquerable will.

He is the man who taught Kirby Smart how to build a national champ in the modern game. With seven national titles — all since the turn of the century — he’s got more than Bear Bryant, Knute Rockne, John McKay, Woody Hayes, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne.

And Texas.

A college football game worthy of our money and support is on the way. Anything can happen, even Texas getting back.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The Number One College Football Show” on YouTube.

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