As you probably guessed, this is also a sponsored post! As Bill spoke about in his post, NCAA 14 is one of the biggest video game releases of the year, having added the new physics system that Madden employed in last year's edition. Having been extremely impressed with the new Madden, I've been pretty excited for the new NCAA to come out for a while now. However, I am not alone for this post. EA Sports said that I wasn't allowed to write this by myself (Must have seen me complain about their ratings in the past), so I perused through the comments section on Bill's post, and found a suitable companion to join me for this article. Chris Taylor (successwithhonorsarasota) showed some serious knowledge of the NCAA games in the comments, so I asked him to join me for a discussion about the game, and how it pertains to our real life Lions. If you'll notice, I pretty much just let him go (He was on a roll). Here's what we talked about!
Nick: Alright, well welcome Chris. Great to have you writing this article with me.
Chris: Thanks, I'm glad to help out.
Nick: So as you know, Bill wrote an article last week about NCAA 14, about the players ratings, what they would need to do to perform up to their levels and all that. Well now the game has been released. I know you've played it a lot already, I haven't gotten much of a chance to do anything aside from drills due to not wanting to start without uploading the rosters, and because I was in State College for Arts Fest this weekend. So you're here to help me explain to everyone a little better about what you think about how the guys and the team are all going to be in real life, compared to their ratings, abilities, etc. in the game itself. So right off the bat, who do you think the biggest misses were in the game, in terms of ratings?
Chris: Sure, I can do that. The game has Zach Zwinak rated overall at 86, which seems to be fair. They've give him the ability to break tackles at an above average clip and his stiff-arm is also rated very highly. This allows the user to run with Zwinak in a similar manner to how he runs in real life...downfield and tough. The biggest misses were Wartman and Howle. Wartman is set to be a starter in real life, but in the game they have him rated lower than Ben Kline, and riding on the bench with a 72 overall rating. Also, the game has no fullbacks on the roster, leaving the player to use Lynch as the fullback. In real life, it will be interesting to see if PSU uses the fullback much since we no longer have a guy like Zordich in there. Playing the game without a true fullback made me start to wonder if the offense in real life will employ less fullback sets and maybe play single-back, or two tailbacks, and use tight ends to lead block when needed.
Nick: I agree that Wartman should be rated higher, but I can also see why he wouldn't be, considering he only has 1 and 1/2 games under his belt, and not many people outside of State College have really seen what he can do. Same basic situation with Howle, the average fan outside of State College doesn't know his name. As far as Zwinak, that was the aspect of the team that I'm most happy about, because it seems like they got him pretty spot on. He hardly ever goes down on first contact, and when he does, he falls forward for 3 or 4 more yards.
Chris: I agree, running the ball with Zwinak feels like it should. But it made me wonder, with Belton and Lynch needing to get touches, will we see Zwinak in a fullback role once in a while...maybe even lead blocking for Belton or Lynch once in a while. He is still a great fullback, too.
Nick: I've been wondering that myself. It's an interesting idea to consider, having Zwinak at fullback (Could open some things up in terms of options, if O'Brien decides to go that route at all). However, we do have 3 fullbacks on the roster in real life, and when all is said and done, I think it will end up being one of them out there when we need one. However, I don't think we're going to run all that many sets with a fullback at this point.
Chris: I think this season will show us how O'Brien intends to use his fullback. Last season we had the type of fullback that has to be on the field, even if it isn't in the coaches' natural flow for the offense. Our tight ends were not done justice in my opinion, either, with their representation on the game. I also understand that most people don't know our team up and down like we do, but the game only included 3 tight ends...Carter, Breneman, and James. In real life, I expect to see Lehman, Wilkerson quite a bit, and maybe Breneman not at all this season. They have Lehman as a WR with his actual height and weight, which in the end may be close to the way the PSU will use him...like a huge wide receiver.
Nick: That I'm fine with (Although giving him 89 speed is a little ambitious). And I know with Jesse James it's all about people not knowing him, blah blah blah. But a 74? Really?
Chris: It's painful because James is in their base offensive package in the game, and they gave him no catching ability. The other two players, in the game, play about as well as I expect Carter and Wilkerson to play this season, so overall it's good enough for me. The game has Hack as the starter with Ferg on the bench. Their ratings, 79 and 77, are fair I feel. They gave Hack a little more power in his arm, a 89 rating, and that is good enough to get things done against any defense.
Nick: You don't think it's supposed to be DJ Crook, since he's #17?
Chris: The second QB could be Ferg, he's a soph, too. But the 3rd is listed as a sophomore. In my book, sorry Crook, but they didn't mean it to be you. Crook is a freshman...I think 17 is supposed to be Bench. But i'm just guessing. But that aspect of the roster, on the game, made me think about how it applies to real life, the fact that an incoming walk-on freshman may be able to have their likeness on a video game. Pretty cool.
Nick: That's the coolest part about these games, in my opinion. That even though these guys obviously aren't making any money off of it, they can play as themselves and have themselves be nationally marketed, in a way
Chris: On defense, with such a drop-off from our 2nd linebacker to our third, I have been using a lot of nickel in order to get Kline off the field and bring on a third safety. In real life, this may happen a lot, too. We have three safeties listed as starters, with Keiser, Willis, and Amos.
Nick: And SOA of course.
Chris: Exactly. So in order to get our best 11 on the field, we may be seeing a lot of 3 safeties this season. In real life, the fact that Amos was moved to safety tells me that the coaching staff feels we are ok at corner. In the game, our corners, after Amos, are all rated low. This could also prove to be an under-assessment. I remember the Giants won a superbowl in 1986 with a starting cornerback who had the nickname 'toast' as a starter, Patterson I think was his name. But they also had a fierce pass rush and good safeties, the that team's corners didn't have to cover for very long...neither will ours. So our corners may play well because their jobs are going to be made easier.
Nick: I agree, I don't think they would have moved Amos, if they didn't think what they had at corner was good enough.
Chris: In reality, we have 4 linebackers who will see a lot of playing time, but since they have varying skills amongst them, we may see Wartman in pass situations and kline more as a backup or run stopper. The sanctions are starting to shape our roster to the point where we have to be versatile. In the game, Zwinak is a hard-nosed runner and Belton is better running outside. That is proabably true in real-life, too. Last season we used tight ends as WR's sometimes, other times they played a traditional tight end role, and then sometimes they went into the backfield and blocked. This season, I'm thinking our ability to use multiple RB's will create the same type of matchup problems. We could put in Zwinak and Belton and run just about anything out of that alignment. Let Belton run with a lead blocker, like Belton split out as a wr and go one back. All sorts of formations with just two guys. Much like using tight ends for multiple purposes disguises our intentions, so too will having this flexibility. I was intrigued when looking at our return game in real life and the game.
Nick: I definitely agree about all of that about Zwinak and Belton, and I would expect Bill to be on the field a lot more this year because of that. O'Brien showed in New England that he can take a versatile running back like Danny Woodhead, and turn him into a true weapon. Belton can definitely have that same kind of impact.
Chris: I agree, and then we also have a guy like Lynch who has got to see some time this season. He's possibly our most pure tailback. The return game in real life may provide opportunities for Belton to get the ball in space. In the game, Della Valle is on KR and is the punt returner, even though Belton is rated higher than him. In real life, people like Richy Anderson, Trevor Williams, Geno Lewis, and Kenney may find that the return game is the only place to get some chances to touch the ball. The game has all of our offensive lineman rated 83 or 84 except our center. This is good enough to execute and offense. This should also be true in real life. However, with a less experienced QB, we may see more handoffs this season. It's nice to have 3 RB's instead of what we had to deal with last season at the beginning of the year. From a strategic standpoint, it's easy to forget that we lost Redd so close to the year and that Belton got hurt and then was ineffective as a starting RB. So we basically had open tryouts, and Zwinak won the job over Day and Zordich. This season we know what we have, and it is bountiful at RB.
Nick: All in all, I think the game does a pretty good job of portraying the team as a whole. There are some big and obvious misses in terms of ratings, but we can't reasonably expect every player on every team to be rated perfectly. And while I certainly believe that we will be a better team that what the ratings seem to indicate, I think EA did an admirable job.
Chris: I agree with that. My opinion is that EA does a good job, year in year out, with the rankings and having them play at the level that the team should. Also, in real life the most talented group of individuals don't always win as many games as a great team does. Look at Michigan State last season...great on paper, not so much in real life.
Nick: Agreed. Well before we wrap it up, do you have any final thoughts to add?
Chris: I would say that EA did a good job once again with the production of this game. The game plays nice, it's great to have the new version, and it's a reminder that the season is not too far off.
Nick: Alright man, thanks a lot for participating.
Thanks again for participating, Chris. Now I shall sit back and read the comments asking about why I'm talking to myself again. Or go play NCAA 14. One or the other.
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