July used to be an exciting time for sports related video games because EA Sports always used to release NCAA Football games. However, with former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit, EA Sports quit releasing the games after NCAA Football 14 in July of 2013. Fans of college football and the games would always argue if the ratings were correct or not after the games were released. However, this fun exhibition in irrationality that kept fans going in the long summer droughts dried up after 2013. So, why are we even talking about NCAA Football ratings since sadly no the game did not come out again? Well, because our colleague Jason Kirk of SBNation wrote an article about hypothetical team rankings, and we thought it would generate some fun discussion about hypothetical rankings from a nonexistent video game.
Below is Jason Kirk’s rankings table:
Possible NCAA Football 18 Team Rankings
|Ohio State||Big Ten||93||92||93|
|Penn State||Big Ten||89||92||86|
|Oklahoma State||Big 12||86||95||77|
|West Virginia||Big 12||81||86||75|
|Kansas State||Big 12||80||84||76|
|San Diego State||MWC||80||80||79|
|Appalachian State||Sun Belt||79||79||79|
|Iowa State||Big 12||79||86||72|
|Michigan State||Big Ten||79||79||79|
|Texas Tech||Big 12||79||92||65|
|Arkansas State||Sun Belt||75||73||76|
|Georgia Southern||Sun Belt||73||71||75|
|San Jose State||MWC||72||73||71|
|South Alabama||Sun Belt||72||71||72|
|UL Lafayette||Sun Belt||72||67||76|
|Georgia State||Sun Belt||71||68||74|
|New Mexico State||Sun Belt||70||73||66|
|Texas State||Sun Belt||67||67||66|
|Coastal Carolina||Sun Belt||66||70||62|
Kirk used SBNation writer Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projections for every team to base these rankings on and adjusted everything for the 60 to 99 scale that the NCAA Football games used.
On the teams’ ratings, Kirk says the following:
“On that scale, a team rated 60 is almost certainly the worst in FBS (that scale still leaves room for an FCS team to play like a 45 or so), and a 99 team is likely one of the best ever.”
And further justifies the lack of any teams close to a 99, the highest rating possible with the following reason, which I happen to agree with:
“So since none of 2017’s teams look likely to be in the running for greatest ever, nobody’s really close to 99.”
As you can see, Alabama (94) is projected to be the best team in the NCAA followed by Ohio State (93), Florida State (91), USC (90), and Clemson (89). Four of the top five teams are four of the five teams to appear in every College Football Playoff ranking (the fifth team is Utah), so it is not surprising to see those four teams in the preseason top five, and USC is the trendy preseason pick after winning their final nine games (after losing to Utah) of the 2016 season and return 2017 Heisman Trophy frontrunner quarterback Sam Darnold. USC is expected to be the class of the Pac-12 in 2017. Washington (88) and Stanford (87) are also projected as preseason top 15 teams. Stanford’s 88 rating on defense is the highest of any Pac-12 team, while Oregon (84) and USC are tied with the highest offensive rating at 93. The only other Pac-12 team to rate over 90 in any category is Washington’s offense at a 91. The lowest rated Pac-12 team is Arizona (78).
So, how do they have Utah rated? Well, the Utes check in with a rating of 81, led by an offensive rating of 84 and only a 77 on defense, which is actually lower than Oregon State’s (78) and only five higher than Arizona State’s (72), which is the lowest in the Pac-12. Utah’s rating of 81 is only higher than Arizona (78), Arizona State (80), Cal (80), and Colorado (80) and is tied with Oregon State and Washington State, which means Utah is rated between 6th and 8th in the Pac-12 according to this. The offensive and defensive rankings seem almost backwards to me. An offensive rating of 84 puts Utah somewhere between No. 43 and No. 49 in the nation, which is higher than Utah has finished in total offense in six years in the Pac-12 (their best total offense was No. 51 last season, and their next best is No. 76 in 2013). The same holds true for scoring offense as well, with Utah’s best mark coming in 2014 when they ranked No. 52 in the nation. I think the high rating stems from the return of a senior quarterback along with depth at running back and wide receiver. I also think the addition of offensive coordinator Troy Taylor resulted in a rating bump for the Utah offense. If Utah’s offense truly performs like an 84 overall offense in 2017, I will be ecstatic.
While the offense at an 84 seems potentially a little too high, the defense at 77 overall however seems far too low. It rates between No. 51 and No. 55 in the nation. Utah has only finished worse than No. 55 in the nation in total defense twice since joining the Pac-12 (in 2013 and 2014). If you use scoring defense as your measure, Utah only finished worse than No. 55 once (in 2013). The Utah defense lost a lot in the secondary, but they return all of their linebackers from last season and a lot of talent on the defensive line. Defensive end Kylie Fitts and defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei are both potential first-team All-Pac-12 players. The linebackers took their lumps last season, but they improved throughout the season, and I think Kavika Luafatasaga (a former four-star JUCO recruit) will have a breakout senior season. The secondary might be unproven, but there is plenty of talent in the group led by safety Chase Hansen. Utah also added two instant impact JUCO players in safety Corrion Ballard, who arrived on campus for spring football and performed well, safety/outside linebacker hybrid Marquis Blair, and cornerback Tareke Lewis. The jewel of their 2017 class was top 100 high school cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who should instantly compete for playing time and a starting role.
One other fun part about the release of the NCAA Football games was seeing who the highest rated players were. This was not covered in Kirk’s article, so we will make some predictions. I think the highest rated Utah football player would be punter Mitch Wishnowsky. He is the reigning Ray Guy Award winner after having a phenomenal debut in his sophomore season at Utah. I expect he would be rated 95 or higher. The highest rated defender would likely be Lotulelei rated in the low to mid 90s. Offense is the hardest to gauge. There is not a clear cut most talented player on offense. Quarterback Troy Williams, running back Zack Moss, wide receivers Demari Simpkins, Raelon Singleton, or Siaosi Wilson, or offensive lineman Leka Uhatafe could all potentially be Utah’s top rated offensive player. With a rating of 84 though and the importance of a good quarterback, my guess is if the game did exist, it would be Williams who rated the highest somewhere in the mid to maybe upper 80s.