From Reggie Bush's invention of the signature joystick back juke move after his legendary run in 2005 against Fresno State to the Road to Glory mode where you could put yourself in the shoes of a highly touted five-star recruit turned college football star, the NCAA Football video game franchise was arguably the most celebrated yearly sports game release.
The famous entrance videos of players running out of the tunnel to their respective institutions fight song, while the renowned tandem of Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit graced the background. Those were the moments that all fans of the game relished in. We all enjoyed the memories of playing with players that were assigned random names to their original numbers.
Unless you had the most recent roster updates or luckily found someone who took the time to name every player in the country, the sheer joy of playing with Tim Tebow under-center for the Florida Gators as "Player No. 15" brought an unexplainable level of happiness.
In July 2013, the game would release NCAA Football 14, its final copy. With Denard Robinson gracing the cover, it came to an abrupt end after the NCAA ruled that it violated amateurism and that EA Sports was taking advantage of athletes image and likeness despite them not being able to profit from the famous game.
This was until recently. There's been a buzz about the NCAA potentially allowing student-athletes to profit off of their likeness from the storied platform. This idea sparked the current debate and Herbstreit took to Twitter to express his desire for the games return.
Johnny Manziel tearing the SEC apart, Jadeveon Clowney's hit in the 2013 Outback Bowl against Michigan, and Aaron Donald recording an astronomical 28.5 tackles for loss during his senior season at Pitt. Those were the last moments that we saw of the storied game.
With the most recent rumors of the game possibly making a return, this sparked the debate into my head to make a list of the players that we missed out on during the games absence from 2015-2019.
For the sake of this article, I didn't include any players that are still currently in college. While everyone would love to play with Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa, there are plenty of other players that we never got the chance to enjoy either.
It's important to remember to differentiate who these candidates were as college prospects, no matter how their NFL careers have turned out to date. This list is strictly measuring their impact and fun meter on the game.
Here's my top-20 ranking:
1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Starting right at the top, this should be a common consensus amongst everyone. Jackson was a video game player in real life. His combination of speed, arm talent, and agility would've made for a Michael Vick on 2004 Madden-esque impact on the game. Easily the top player that we unfortunately never got a chance to experience.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
His 10,796 career passing yards comfortably sits atop the schools record books and his impact would've been the same on the game. It goes far beyond the versatility with Mariota though. The plethora of uniform combinations combined with tearing defenses apart with his arm and his legs helped him finish just behind Jackson in the second spot.
3. Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Labeled as one of the best running back prospects ever, it's easy to see why Barkley would've been exciting to play with. A player whose body feature sliders, power, strength, and speed would've been at the highest possible allowed slot, Barkley would've been a player that you center your entire offensive playbook around.
4. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
What didn't he do at Stanford? Imagine all of the ways that you could use him. Out of the backfield, in the slot, on the perimeter, and somehow executing his 99 overall rating as a return specialist would've made McCaffrey a cheat code in a sense for Stanford. Mashing down the turbo button would've been taken to another level with him.
5. Leonard Fournette, LSU
A prime example of a player that you have to take only his college career into account, defenses feared the bruising Fournette. For what the team lacked in the passing game, lining up in heavy personnel to pound the rock with him would've been enjoyable. Watching him truck and rumble his way to the endzone while still being able to outrun them to the corner, makes Fournette a top-5 selection in this case.
6. Amari Cooper, Alabama
124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns. Those are the numbers that we saw from Cooper in his last season with the Tide. Talk about a dominant threat on the perimeter, he would've been just that. Clicking on him while the ball was in the air to tower over defensive backs in order to execute a user catch would've had the makings of an easy six points. Cooper's route-running and yards after the catch abilities could have been a wildly entertaining factor.
7. Derrick Henry, Alabama
While Henry's exciting attribute levels may have not have been as high as some of his counterparts, lining up a 6-foot-4, 240 pound running back with the best team on the game would've presented lots of problems. Henry's size and strength coupled with the defensive threat that Alabama presented, had the makings of a tough out for any matchup.
8. Derwin James, Florida State
After showing so much love to the offensive side of the ball, the first defensive player makes an appearance. While at Florida State, there wasn't a position that James didn't play. Labeled as a safety, you could really roam all over the field at a multitude of spots, but the most enjoyment with him would've come as a blitzer as he'd be a heat seeking missile on his way to sacking the quarterback.
9. Nick Chubb/Sony Michel, Georgia
This is a tandem that you have to include together because of how special they were. For users that love to chew up clock or enjoy explosive plays, the dynamic duo would've brought plenty of that to the table. The 1-2 punch could have been one of the best on the game since Reggie Bush and Lendale White.
10. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
We only witnessed it for one season, but as the roster updates continued to upload throughout the year, Murray's rating would've been sky-high. His jitterbug-like movements and slipperiness in the backfield while creating off-script would've been nearly impossible to stop. Coupled that with Lincoln Riley's playbook, Oklahoma would've been a top selection among many.
11. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Another defensive selection, defensive end is the first position that you are optioned to control while on defense. Using Garrett to explode past offensive tackles would've been fulfilling. His power, length, and explosiveness had the makings of an unstoppable force coming off of the edge.
12. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
There's no way we could include Kyler Murray without mentioning Mayfield. With his swagger and confidence meters at the games highest point, watching him and the fiery gestures that would've been included with him on the game would've made him another popular selection among game users. His pin-point accuracy at all three levels of the field would have been a tremendous asset.
13. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
An easy selection here. When needing a player to match up with that standout receiver who seems to be unstoppable, Ramsey would've been the perfect player to silence him. Essentially cutting off his side of the field, the game freeze framing the former Seminole corner and reversing the camera angle while he attacked the ball out of the air for an interception would've been a common theme. Add in the trash talking factor, Ramsey could have been an NCAA Football legend.
14. Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
One of the best players in school history, his signature crop top jersey may have been an added option when creating players. While not a super exciting player in a video game sense, Elliott's consistency and versatility as a runner and pass catcher makes him an easy inclusion on this list.
15. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
The knee injury made many forget about just how special of talent that Smith was during his career at Notre Dame. From his signature swipe celebration to roaming the middle of the defense, he would have been nearly unblockable. Using his sideline-to-sideline range could have been enjoyable while attempting to shut down the opposition.
16. Myles Jack, UCLA
Continuing the linebacker trend, Jack was a phenomenal player. Would could have made him an even funner player on the platform was using him as a running back as well. The game allowed players to play both ways depending on your choosing of the depth chart. With prior experience at the position, Jack had the makings of an exciting two-way player that contained endless stamina.
17. Derrius Guice, LSU
The enjoyment of watching how the game creators incorporated Guice's hard running style could have been fun in itself. Back-to-back 1,200 rushing yards and 10-plus touchdown seasons may have made him one of the best rushers to play with on the game. Running like his hair is on fire with plenty of wiggle to combine with it, the former Tiger runner would've shredded defenses on the game.
18. Ed Oliver, Houston
A player who may should have been higher, but it was really hard to slot Oliver. Without a doubt a player that could been moved to multiple spots. I mean, there were rumors of trying him at linebacker, so let's do it here. His first-step, athleticism, and swiftness could have made him a breathtaking video game player.
19. Joey Bosa, Ohio State
One of the best edge rushers that we've seen in quite some time, Bosa's blend of speed, hand usage, and bend could have made him a fan favorite when rushing the passer. Surrounded with a defense loaded with talent, being able stop him would have been a difficult task.
20. Roquan Smith, Georgia
Another player who may have been slotted higher, but the others at the position were a bit better. That's not to discredit Smith and the attributes that he potentially brought to the table as a MIKE linebacker. When others wanted to use some of the nations best offenses when matched up against you, picking Smith and the vaunted Bulldog defense could have been a popular selection to limit them.
Added Extra: Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
For the sake of this article, I had to find a way to include an elite offensive lineman. For all of the trench lovers and users who, when on offense, weirdly toggled off of the ball to play offensive line, Nelson pummeling defenders on a down-to-down basis would've been unfair. With his pad height and nastiness at a maximum level, the offensive line lovers would've had a field day clearing lanes for Irish rushers when using him.