Every generation of sports fans has their moment, the event in your teens or twenties you can just instantly identify as one you’re going to be cornering your grandkids retelling after Thanksgiving dinner in sixty years as they try to put you to bed.
The Silent Generation is going to tell you about Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series, and you can choose to believe whether they actually listened to it or not.
The Boomers went bananas with Al Michaels in the final moments of the Miracle On Ice.
Gen X followed Jack Nicklaus’ putter up, up, and away at the Masters in ‘86.
Millennials felt their chests corkscrew and double over as they waited for David Tyree’s “Helmet Catch” to be replayed.
And us, we have the LeBron chasedown block or the Cubs World Series or the Pats’ 28-3 comeback or something like that.
No, the announcement that the NCAA Football video game series will be returning wasn’t quite that big, but you’d be forgiven if you thought so amid Tuesday’s social media declarations of “Free at Last, Free at Last,” “Ain’t No Crying There, We Are Going To See The King,” and, less hyperbolically, “Shut Up and Take My Money.”
It was an emotional and thickly nostalgic day for many of us. I read of successful fake field goals to secure an undefeated season in online dynasty, people loading entire rosters of an HBCU school into TeamCreator and winning 45 titles in 50 years, campers outside of Walmart floating down the aisles with their buddies on release night before playing until 10 in the morning fueled by pizza and Mountain Dew, and one journalist who used NCAA to help him decide between colleges he was considering.
For me, I would go over to my best friend’s bedroom ad nauseam after school to play with Western San Diego University, complete with gaudy royal blue and lime green threads and all of our friends inserted into the roster, with our positions literally decided by body type. My 10 year-old self thought it would be badass to use my middle name and Latinize it, even if I didn’t totally understand how to, so I became Francisco Shanihaan, the slot receiver wearing #9, 99 overall across the board. If my friend was playing and I saw Francisco open downfield but he didn’t get the ball, I gave a death stare that said every word of “ain’t no way you getting the crackers in my Lunchable tomorrow” for me.
Dynasty Mode made me into the oddball sports nut I am today; obsessed with head coaches, recruiting, and college football itself despite being from upstate New York, where there’s no particularly notable teams within hundreds of miles. So as soon as the news broke Tuesday, I knew I would have to make a guide (for myself as much as anyone else) that whittled through some absolutely essential selling points to arrive at the perfect programs to overhaul in the upcoming game. What follows is lightly scientific and absent any peer reviews, but has still been proven to reduce UDSEs (unforgivable dynasty setup errors) by 43.91%.
The most non-negotiable part of any dynasty. I’m the biggest off-the-field hardo you’ll find as far as recruiting and personnel decisions go, and still completely refuse to sign on with a team that doesn’t have some slick uniforms. It’s true that the Power 5 programs tend to have a lot more in the way of unique color combos and lip-smacking alternate helmets and jerseys, but there are still some great looks among the Group of Five.
There’s nothing like a well-established, on-the-schedule-every-year rivalry matchup. Win it consistently and you’re a local hero, hoisting some wacky trophy postgame, reaping the spoils of the victory further when the four-star recruit you’d give your left ear for signs with you over the other team the subsequent week. Lose it and you might be firmly on the hot seat, with the whole dynasty on the verge of a demoralizing reboot. Again, the P5 has the ones you know and love, but the Group of Five has fantastic candidates too.
Bonus Points: Great Traditions, Stadium, And/Or Fanbase
College football is college football because of the three elements above. There’s Ralphie the Buffalo thundering onto the field with the University of Colorado. Memorial Stadium becoming the third-largest city by population in Nebraska on gameday, and a minor earthquake registering on Virginia Tech’s campus as the Hokies walk down a cramped tunnel with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” engulfing everything. The more all-in the new EA Sports game goes here, the better.
Now, are you a novice player starting for the first time and/or someone who doesn’t want to waste your life away spending six seasons building, recruiting, etc.? (If not, you can skip to the next bolded section)
These teams are major-ish players in the sport that might be in need of your guidance. We’ll start with the teams with the best uniforms.
Florida State, sheesh. The original garnet-and-golds with those incredible helmets would be more than enough (cue Kip Moore crooning stage left). But the black alternates they’ve been tossing on lately? Speechless. Michigan obviously has an iconic look, and their partnership with Jordan could keep churning out ridiculous uniforms for years to come. For Pitt, it’s always about their Marino throwbacks. You’ll make those your default home-and-aways. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to keep up with Louisville’s different jerseys, but I’m partial to anything with their red chrome helmets and the new Muhammad Ali alternates are heavenly. Oklahoma State has some of the best helmets in college football, particularly with the old script “OSU” hats and the white cowboys. Anything Ole Miss does with powder blue turns to gold. Virginia Tech’s exceedingly unique maroon-and-burnt-orange scheme has a special place in my heart. Nebraska takes the field clean as can be every year, but their black alternates push them over the top. Finally, don’t sleep on Colorado’s all-whites or smoke grays.
There are loads of other big-brand teams with fantastic jerseys, but they really don’t provide much of a challenge from a dynasty perspective. You’re kind of stepping into a finished situation at LSU, Florida, etc.
We don’t really lose any of the above squads by filtering out teams without a bitter archrival. Nebraska’s situation is a bit awkward because they left the teams they’ve traditionally squared off against in the Big 12 in 2010, but it’s a fascinating job regardless.
Florida State has solid rivalries with Florida and Miami, especially because you’ll be squaring off with those two schools for many a Sunshine State recruit when you get your dynasty rolling. Pitt-Penn State is underrated. The Louisville-Kentucky rivalry that has been marquee in basketball for a while is becoming rapidly more relevant in football. “Bedlam” between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is usually one of the more chaotic sixty minutes of the season with points galore. The Ole Miss-Mississippi State Egg Bowl is a classic that intensified after the infamous “peeing dog” celebration in 2019 cost the Rebels the game. And nothing more can be said about “The Game” between Michigan and Ohio State.
Schools getting bonus points start with Florida State (Tomahawk Chop and Chief Osceola). Virginia Tech, Colorado, and Nebraska I’ve already mentioned and their traditions make my heart sing. Michigan’s Big House is the biggest stadium in the sport and Wolverines fans will pack it to capacity. And Ole Miss’ Walk Of Champions through the all-day party in the Grove is something else.
If You Want To Challenge Yourself A Bit…
- Join a tough conference. The schools above are more or less traditional names, so this isn’t as relevant, but some teams have an easier schedule than others. Michigan’s in a brutal division in the Big Ten East with Ohio State and Penn State on the schedule every year. Same goes for Ole Miss in the SEC West, where you’ll get the likes of Alabama, LSU, and Auburn annually. I think Oklahoma State deserves a mention here too because at no point in the dynasty will it be easier to fully supplant Oklahoma and Texas atop the Big 12.
- Go to a program with inherent disadvantages. Nebraska is the most obvious name along these lines because if the new game is realistic, there won’t be many top recruits nearby and it won’t be always smooth sailing to get them to come to Lincoln. Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech are also in small towns where competition for a somewhat limited pool of prospects will be fierce.
Verdict: By design, it won’t be too easy to dominate at any of these schools. However, if you want to have the ability to get on top and stay on top, I’d take a long look at Florida State and Michigan. Both schools are name brands but will always be doing battle with some quality rivals. If you want to play the long game, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma State stand out. All of those teams could be built up but are perceived as upper-middle-to-middle tier jobs in their conferences.
Perhaps You’re a Diehard That Wants To Scratch, Claw, and Bite Kneecaps Off Dan Campbell-Style On Your Way To The Top…
The first step in creating a winning program out of a perennial bottomfeeder is, of course, to find a team that already has winning uniforms in place. (Eternal respect if you create a one-star school with custom jerseys)
(Digression on universities’ preferred fonts: Many universities have logos that don’t conveniently translate to choosing a Word font, but Texas State said Garamond imparts “a sense of history and academia” associated with the TSU name, so who am I to argue?)
Memphis is, like Louisville, always on the cutting edge of the uniform arms race. The white helmets look fantastic as-is, but the school’s designers are really outdoing themselves with their tiger-striped jerseys and helmets. Tulane’s olive-and-blue throwbacks are as good as it gets at the Group of Five level. I take that back – North Texas’ “Mean Joe Greene” throwbacks are as good as it gets at the Group of Five level. That helmet logo is simply glorious. With the service academies, you know they’re going to be turning out beauties every year, especially for the Army/Navy game special uniforms – it will be interesting to see which unis make it into the video game. Texas State gets kudos for making the brown-and-gold look work well, and their all-gold alternates mean the Austin-area program has unlimited jersey potential. Vandy always looks terrific taking their lumps in the SEC, and I like the “Anchor Down” rallying cry. You can debate whether BYU belongs in this tier or in the “more established program” category, but there’s no arguing what their simple royal-and-white scheme brings to the table, plus those black alternates. The SMU “Dallas” whites would merit inclusion by themselves, but Sonny Dykes’ Mustangs look fantastic every Saturday. Tulsa’s blue-and-whites are tailor-made for a program acceleration to the top of the American conference and into the Top 25 consistently. App State’s black-and-mustards are doing wonders for them, plus you get a third jersey. Oregon State doesn’t blow you away, but it’s the “Beavs” for me. Build The Dam baby, as coach Jonathan Smith would say.
For Those Who Place a High Priority on Nicknames…
The following Group of Five programs would make for dynasties tougher than a two-dollar steak and their nicknames may prove too much for you to pass up: Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, Marshall Thundering Herd, and Central Michigan Chippewas. Many would put the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in here, but that’s somehow too rich for my taste.
Filtering Down By Teams With a Big-Time Rivalry Game…
Every team’s fans will say they have a hated archrival, and no matter who you select, they’ll have a high-priority rivalry game or two on the schedule that will affect your job standing. For my money, though, these are the teams with a prominent rivalry game. With Memphis and Tulsa, I may be stretching a bit, but the Tigers have Cincinnati in-conference and you’d be wise to schedule Tennessee and Louisville out-of-conference. For Tulsa, they’ve been playing Oklahoma State pretty consistently lately, and that would be a massive matchup as you progress in dynasty. Vanderbilt-Tennessee has the potential to be an awesome in-state rivalry when both programs get going a bit. BYU squares off against in-state Utah in the “Holy War” – ‘nuff said. The Appalachian State-Georgia Southern game is apparently called “Deeper Than Hate,” and I mean, that’s awesome, plus defending the option is always a frustrating challenge. Oregon State-Oregon is no longer called the Civil War, which is a bummer, but the Beavers picked up only their second win against the Ducks since 2007 this past year. Great rivalry. The service academies are obviously as good as it gets in this regard.
Bonus points go to BYU and Appalachian State. BYU has as strong a fanbase as you’ll find outside of the Power 5, and LaVell Edwards Stadium seats a cool 63,470. Over in mountainous Boone, North Carolina, App State’s Kidd-Brewer stadium is purportedly one of the most underrated stadiums to take in a game in college football. Plus, Eric Church is an alum. He’ll be our College GameDay guest picker until the end of time once we get this thing going.
If you’re looking for a team that’s currently operating in a scheme you think you’ll adopt, Memphis and SMU aren’t afraid to throw the ball around the field, while the service academies obviously have their enjoyable option attacks.
If You Want To Challenge Yourself Even More…
- Join a tough conference. This is where Tulane and Tulsa really come into play, because while each job has some cool perks, they’re near the bottom of a competitive American conference in which Cincinnati, UCF, and Memphis are really humming right now. Vanderbilt and Oregon State are some of the toughest jobs in college football because they’re essentially expected to be in the annual cellar of the SEC and Pac-12, respectively. Texas State is getting beat up in the Sun Belt, where App State, Coastal, and Louisiana-Lafayette are the top dogs. Real-life coach Jake Spavital is 5-19 in two seasons. You can always realign to join a Power 5 conference when the dynasty is a well-oiled machine, but I usually think it’s fun to work my way up within an existing conference setup first.
- Go to a program with inherent disadvantages. Oregon State is a meat grinder of an assignment because one of the top teams in college football is located in-state, and there aren’t usually a ton of top recruits in the Pacific Northwest, on top of the fact the school is located in small Corvallis. Vanderbilt doesn’t spend close to what its peers in the SEC do, so you’ll be working from a facilities and “Stadium Atmosphere” disadvantage. App State is located in a mountain town in western North Carolina. Good times.
Verdict: All of these gigs are awesome. If you want to go zero-to-hero, Texas State looks sweet because of the gold alternate jerseys and the opportunity to climb the rungs of the Fun Belt. I think Tulsa presents a great proposition because they’re the smallest FBS school by enrollment and also the number one college team in one of the biggest cities in the country without a pro sports team. If you want to start in the Power 5 and build from there, Oregon State should be a grueling assignment with the challenge of building a team out of the Pacific Northwest that also has to play Oregon every season.
If you can’t tell, I’m revved up about this game. It’s quite wonderful being able to take over a college football program without having to work 120-hour weeks for fifteen years as a grad assistant. Happy gaming, my friends, and email me the programs that are sticking out to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.