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Madden NFL 20 gets college football so incredibly wrong

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It has been six years since the last NCAA Football video game and there’s a possibility it might return in the future if we’re lucky. In the meantime, I was excited to learn that Madden NFL 20‘s Face of the Franchise mode would feature the College Football Playoff and real college teams. After playing the mode, however, I’m left scratching my head.

Electronic Arts made the NCAA Football games, but it seems as if the writers of Madden NFL 20 forgot what college football is actually like after that series ceased to exist. Face of the Franchise has one of the hokiest and factually inaccurate storylines I’ve played in a long time.

If you’re at all worried about spoilers, you should stop reading now.

This just doesn’t happen

The story goes that you are a 5-star quarterback recruit. You walk into a bathroom, stare into the mirror, and create your character. You’re nervous because you’re about to make the biggest decision of your life. Your player then walks out to their press conference and ten hats are sitting on the pristine table. An audience awaits your decision.

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It’s a limited selection, but the programs included are heavy hitters. There’s also Texas Tech but that is obviously only included because Patrick Mahomes II is the cover athlete of NFL 20. I chose USC, mainly because I loathe most of the ten teams available in Face of the Franchise. Regardless, this “Hat Picking Ceremony” is an accurate depiction of National Signing Day. So far, so good.

But things quickly turn in a direction that doesn’t make any sense. After you arrive on campus, you learn that the number one recruit in the country, Marcus Washington, has de-committed from his previous school and decided to enroll at your chosen program. Your head coach tells you the grim news in his office because he wanted you to be the first to know. Supposedly, the job was promised to you, the 5-star recruit who could’ve played anywhere he wanted. Yet now a higher rated recruit, also a 5-star QB, has jumped ahead of you.

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Just to put the star rating in perspective here: 247 Sports, one of the leaders in recruiting analysis, typically only bestows a 5-star rating to two, maybe three quarterbacks per year. It only gave a 5-star rating to one QB in 2019. In general, 5-star ratings are incredibly selective. So the chances of two 5-star QB recruits choosing the same school in the same year? Let’s just say it doesn’t happen.

From implausible to impossible

On top of that, the logistics here don’t really add up in modern college football. The number one recruit in the country would’ve officially committed far before you would have arrived on campus. That means he would’ve had to transfer and subsequently sit out one year. You may think I’m reading into it too much here, but the premise is nuts.

On top of that, if the head coach had promised a QB recruit the starting job, that would make a great case for a transfer waiver, thus letting said recruit transfer without having to sit out. Instead, your character decides to stick around and fight for the starting job. A noble but gutsy decision.

After you exit the office, four years pass. Here’s where things go from improbable to downright unbelievable. Apparently, the former number one recruit and four-year starter is injured sometime between your team’s last game and the College Football Playoff. Now, it’s up to you to lead your team to a National Championship berth and victory.

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Not only did you stay with a coaching staff that apparently lied to you for four years, but in those four seasons, you never started a game. Not only that but you never even saw the field. That’s right. The backup QB for a major program never took a snap.

At face value, maybe that doesn’t sound so ridiculous, but college football isn’t the NFL. Backups and even third-string QBs regularly come into games in the second half, especially when you play for a national powerhouse that typically steamrolls over at least a few opponents each year.

Of the ten college teams that are included in Face of the Franchise, exactly zero of them used only one QB during the 2018 college football season. I’d be surprised if any school across the country only used one QB throughout a full season. And Face of the Franchise tries to sell you on four seasons? Then, right before the CFP, the sturdiest college QB in history gets injured. That’s a seriously bad break — no pun intended.

Perhaps even crazier than that ridiculous stat is that you have to believe that you, a 5-star recruit with NFL aspirations, sat on the bench instead of transferring. What’s even funnier is that while competing in the playoffs, the announcers discuss how you already decided that you wouldn’t pursue a graduate transfer for one more year of eligibility. What would have happened if you hadn’t played at all in college? Kiss the NFL Draft goodbye. Oh well, I guess dreams don’t matter.

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The actual gameplay in Face of the Franchise is fine. It feels like regular Madden, except you only control your play. While some changes are made to reflect NCAA rules, others just go with the NFL rulebook, such as pass interference spot penalties rather than the 15-yard penalty seen in college football.

After I won the National Championship, I went to the Combine to throw alongside other NFL hopefuls. As I’m on the sideline waiting for my turn, a man approaches me and asks about my representation. I apparently don’t have an agent yet, and then he practically tells me that he’s my agent now. I’m also his only client. How in the world did he get on the field at the NFL Combine? We’ll never really know.

Your performance in the CFP and at the Combine determines your draft stock. I won the championship and then completed about 70% of my passes at the Combine. From a run-down motel room, my fake agent and I received a call from Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians to let me know the Bucs were taking me in the fourth round. This is the end of my college QB (non)playing days.

Face of the Franchise feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a story that disregards logic in favor of sensationalism, and it is not even good at doing that. EA could have made your player a walk-on or a third-string QB like the Buckeyes’ Cardale Jones (who led his team to a championship) to create a far more emotionally impactful and coherent premise, but what’s here is simply nonsensical. At the very least, I’m now the starting QB for the Bucs so, fortunately, after all that bench warming, it worked out in the end.

Steven Petite
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven is a writer from Northeast Ohio currently based in Louisiana. He writes about video games and books, and consumes…
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