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EA Sports: Top 10 Missing College Football Covers


Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson in a game against the Michigan State Spartans
© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

EA Sports released its highly anticipated yearly game, NCAA Football 2014, on July 9th, 2013, with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson as the cover athlete. According to ESPN, the game sold over 1.5 million copies that year and many of the buyers were die-hard fans that purchased the game every year. A significant part of the annual excitement came from starting a dynasty with your favorite college football team, developing the team through recruiting, and leading them to individual honors like the Heisman, as well as team achievements like bowl game victories and ultimately a national championship!



In July 2009, four years before it became widely known among sports and video game enthusiasts, Ed O'Bannon, a former UCLA college basketball star, filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA and the Collegiate Licensing Company. He challenged their use of current and former players' names, images, and likenesses (NIL) for financial gain without compensating the players. EA Sports later settled with O'Bannon and others involved in the lawsuit for $40 million and the company was interested in continuing the development of the game by paying players on an annual basis. The NCAA refused to allow any players to profit off of their NIL, so EA Sports was forced to stop making the game.


In February 2021, EA Sports announced the highly anticipated return of the game, primarily driven by changes in the college football landscape regarding NIL regulations that now permit player compensation. Fans eagerly awaited a concrete release date, which was finally hinted at in February 2024 when EA Sports revealed that the game would be launching in the upcoming summer, with a full reveal scheduled for May.



Each year, one of the most eagerly anticipated and debated aspects of the game's release was the selection of cover athletes and who was overlooked. The most popular position to appear on the cover was quarterback, with 12 appearances, and Michigan and USC tied at three apiece for the most athletes on the cover.


To celebrate and anticipate the long-awaited return of this college football video game, let's revisit the past 10 years and speculate on who would have graced the cover if the game had continued its annual release. Keep an eye out for a bonus selection at the end!


 

what are the cover athlete criteria to be followed?


To be consistent with the process used for NCAA Football 2014 and prior releases, the following three conditions must be met for an athlete to appear on the cover of the game:


  • They will not be an active college football player when the game is released, allowing them to declare for the draft and accept compensation—remember, NIL as we know it today did not exist!

  • One of the most popular players with college football fans from the prior season.

  • Demonstrates passion, spirit, and excellence on and off the field.


For each year, three players will be nominated for review, and one will be selected as the cover athlete for the game that year.


A reminder that the cover athlete is chosen two years in advance due to EA Sports using a future year in the title. For example, Carson Palmer was the NCAA Football 2004 cover athlete based on his performance in the 2002 college football season.


Please note that all stats shown include conference title games, bowl games, and playoff games.

 

#1 - NCAA Football 2015 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2013 season:


  • QB Derek Carr, Fresno State (5,083 passing yards, 50 touchdowns and 8 interceptions)

  • QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama (3,063 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions)

  • QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (4,114 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions)


2015 Cover Athlete: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M


In today's world of NIL, Manziel would have been the cover of the 2014 game based on his sensational year in 2012 when he became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman! However, since Manziel was a returning college player and not draft-eligible, he was not eligible for the cover, and EA Sports held a fan vote for the cover selection instead.


Manziel is eligible for the 2015 cover and is an easy selection, given his exciting play and his presence would likely have boosted sales more than any other player under consideration. There is a strong likelihood that featuring Manziel on the cover would have resulted in this being the best-selling edition of the game ever!



Players also considered: DL Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), QB Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois), and WR Mike Evans (Texas A&M)


Players not eligible for consideration: QB Jameis Winston (Florida State)


 

#2 - NCAA Football 2016 cover athlete



The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2014 season:


  • QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (4,454 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and 4 interceptions)

  • RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (2,587 rushing yards, 7.5 yards per carry and 32 total touchdowns)

  • WR Amari Cooper, Alabama (1,727 receiving yards, 13.9 yards per reception and 16 touchdowns)


2016 Cover Athlete: RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin


Barry Sanders is considered one of the greatest football players of all time and his junior year at Oklahoma is one of the best single seasons in college football history by a running back. Let's compare his magical 1988 season with Melvin Gordon's 2014 season:

Player (Year)

Rushing Yards

Rushing Yards Per Carry

Total Touchdowns

Barry Sanders (1988)

2,628

7.6

37

Melvin Gordon (2014)

2,587

7.5

32

You are looking at the top two rushing seasons above in college football history!



Players also considered: QB Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) and RB Tevin Coleman (Indiana)


Players not eligible for consideration: QB Jameis Winston (Florida State) and RB Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)


 

#3 - NCAA Football 2017 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2015 season:


  • RB Derrick Henry, Alabama (2,219 rushing yards, 5.6 yards per carry and 28 touchdowns)

  • RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State (1,821 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry and 23 touchdowns)

  • QB Keenan Reynolds, Navy (1,203 passing yards, 1,373 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns)


2016 Cover Athlete: RB Derrick Henry, Alabama


Derrick Henry runs like a man among boys in the NFL, and that visualization was even more pronounced during his college days against SEC defenses. During the regular season portion of the schedule, Henry set the SEC single-season rushing record with 1,986 yards. He had four games with over 200 rushing yards during the season, with his highest output of 271 yards coming in a 29-13 win over hated rival Auburn. To cap off the season, Henry rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns to lead Alabama to a national championship victory over Clemson.



Players also considered: DE Joey Bosa (Ohio State)


Players not eligible for consideration: RB Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and Leonard Fournette (LSU)


 

#4 - NCAA Football 2018 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2016 season:


  • RB D'Onta Foreman, Texas (2,028 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry and 15 touchdowns)

  • QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson (4,593 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 17 interceptions)

  • QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (3,965 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and 8 interceptions)


2018 Cover Athlete: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson



This would have been one of the toughest decisions between Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson as the cover selection if Jackson had been eligible. Ultimately, Watson would have still ended up being the choice based on the thrilling 35-31 comeback victory he led over Alabama, with his 420 passing yards and three touchdowns to win the national championship! Any other year, the Heisman winner Jackson is the choice (if eligible), but Watson's spectacular play in the national championship game is the difference here.



Players also considered: WR Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma), DB Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), DL Jonathan Allen (Alabama) and RB Dalvin Cook (Florida State)


Players not eligible for consideration: QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)


 

#5 - NCAA Football 2019 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2017 season:


  • QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (4,627 yards passing, 43 touchdowns and 6 interceptions)

  • QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville (3,660 yards passing, 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions)

  • RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State (1,271 yards rushing, 5.9 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns)


2019 Cover Athlete: QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma


Mayfield finally won the Heisman in 2019 after finishing fourth in 2015 and third in 2016. Mayfield led the Sooners to a 12-1 record, a Big 12 title, and a visit to the College Football Playoff. He had several standout performances in victories, including 386 passing yards and three touchdowns at Ohio State and 598 passing yards and five touchdowns against in-state rival Oklahoma State. Once again Jackson was passed up for the NCAA cover after another great year.



Players also considered: QB Bryce Love (Stanford), RB Rashaad Penny (San Diego State), and LB Roquan Smith (Georgia)


Players not eligible for consideration: RB Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)


 

#6 - NCAA Football 2020 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2018 season:


  • QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (4,361 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and 7 interceptions)

  • QB Gardner Minshew, Washington State (4,779 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and 9 interceptions)

  • QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State (4,831 passing yards, 50 touchdowns and 8 interceptions)


2020 Cover Athlete: QB Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State



Based on his play on the field and statistics alone, Kyler Murray should be the favorite, but EA Sports would not put athletes from the same school on the cover back-to-back years with Mayfield on the 2019 cover. With that in mind, the selection here is Dwayne Haskins, to give Ohio State their first cover athlete in the history of the NCAA Football game. If you add in the four rushing touchdowns he had, he accounted for 54 total touchdowns that season! Haskins threw for over 300 yards in nine of the games played and over 400 yards in five of the games. He also had five games where he threw for five touchdowns or more!


Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins throws a pass against Michigan
© Adam Cairns / USA TODAY NETWORK

Players also considered: QB Will Grier (West Virginia) and LB Josh Allen (Kentucky)


Players not eligible for consideration: QB Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), RB Travis Etienne (Clemson) and RB Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)


 

#7 - NCAA Football 2021 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2019 season:


  • QB Joe Burrow, LSU (5,671 passing yards, 60 touchdowns and 6 interceptions)

  • QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (3,851 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 8 interceptions)

  • RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin (2,003 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns)


2021 Cover Athlete: QB Joe Burrow, LSU


This is one of the easiest decisions to make, as Burrow had a season for the ages in 2019! By winning the Heisman Trophy, he broke records with the highest percentage of first-place votes ever received, the highest percentage of possible points, and the distinction of appearing on the most ballots. Burrow set what was a single-season record for most passing touchdowns in a year with 60, a record that Bailey Zappe later broke with 62 passing touchdowns in 2021 at Western Kentucky.



Heisman trophy winner QB Joe Burrow from LSU
© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Players also considered: DE Chase Young (Ohio State), RB J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State) and WR CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)


Players not eligible for consideration: QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)


 

#8 - NCAA Football 2022 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2020 season:


  • WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama (117 receptions, 1,856 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns)

  • QB Kyle Trask, Florida (4,283 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and 8 interceptions)

  • QB Mac Jones, Alabama (4,500 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 4 interceptions


2022 Cover Athlete: WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama


If Trevor Lawrence had been eligible, he would have warranted strong consideration here along with Smith. However, Smith not only won the Heisman Trophy but also helped lead Alabama to a perfect 13-0 record and a National Championship. Smith had three games with over 200 yards receiving, including 215 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the championship game against Ohio State.


Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith catches a 42-yard touchdown behind Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game
© Kyle Robertson via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Players also considered: QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), QB Justin Fields (Ohio State), QB Zach Wilson (BYU) and TE Kyle Pitts (Florida)


Players not eligible for consideration: N/A

 

#9 - NCAA Football 2023 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2021 season:


  • DL Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (51 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 1 interception)

  • QB Kenny Pickett, Pitt (4,319 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and 7 interceptions)

  • RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State (1,636 rushing yards, 6.2 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns)


2023 Cover Athlete: DL Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan


Hutchinson is a worthy choice for the cover athlete. Still, the inability to select C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young gives the impression that the bronze medalist has been awarded the gold due to the disqualification of the top two finishers. Regardless, Hutchinson was the undisputed leader of a Wolverine defense that ranked eighth in the nation in points allowed at 17.4 points per game. In leading Michigan to a 42-27 victory over Ohio State, Hutchinson was a human wrecking ball on the field with seven tackles and three sacks, and the Buckeyes simply could not block him.


Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson sacks Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud during Michigan's 42-27 win over Ohio State
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Players also considered: QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) and RB Breece Hall (Iowa State)


Players not eligible for consideration: QB C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), QB Bryce Young (Alabama) and LB Will Anderson (Alabama)


 

#10 - NCAA Football 2024 cover athlete


The final three players nominated for the cover based on the 2022 season:


  • QB Max Duggan, TCU (3,698 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 8 interceptions)

  • QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (3,688 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and 6 interceptions)

  • QB Bryce Young, Alabama (3,328 passing yards, 32 touchdowns and 5 interceptions)


2024 Cover Athlete: QB Max Duggan, TCU


Duggan is the choice here as he finished second in the Heisman voting to Caleb Williams and led TCU on a miracle journey, all the way to the National Championship game against Georgia. No mention of the score of that game will be shared here, besides it looked like a score when you play against the computer in rookie mode in the NCAA Football video game. Duggan's season is particularly remarkable when you consider that he initially lost his starting job of three years to Chandler Morris before reclaiming it when Morris got injured in the opener against Colorado.



Players also considered: QB Stetson Bennett (Georgia), RB Blake Corum (Michigan), and RB Bijan Robinson (Texas)


Players not eligible for considerations: QB Caleb Williams (USC)

 

bonus - NCAA Football 2025 cover athlete


The final three people nominated for the cover based on the 2023 season and overall career:


  • QB Jayden Daniels, LSU (3,812 passing yards, 1,134 rushing yards, 50 total touchdowns and four interceptions)

  • QB Michael Penix, Washington (4,903 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and 11 interceptions)

  • Head Coach Nick Saban, Alabama (292 wins and seven national titles)


2025 Cover Person: Head Coach Nick Saban, Alabama


By winning seven national championships in his coaching career, six at Alabama and one at LSU, Saban cemented his legacy as the greatest college football coach of all time. The Crimson Tide were a .500 team before his arrival, with a 26-24 record in four seasons under Mike Shula, and then went 206-29 in the next 17 seasons with Saban in charge.


The best Saban stat overall? According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Alabama had more players drafted in the first round (44) than they did losses (29) with Saban as the coach!


Alabama head coach Nick Saban celebrates winning the 2021 National Championship
© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Players also considered: QB Bo Nix (Oregon), WR Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State), QB Jordan Travis (Florida State) and QB J.J. McCarthy (Michigan)


Players not eligible to be considered: Not applicable due to NIL!


 

ea sports college football cover recap


Based on the 11 selections above for the open covers for the EA Sports college football game from 2015 to 2025, here is a quick recap and final thoughts:


  • Quarterback remained the most popular position, with six different players selected.

  • The SEC had the most selections for the cover at five (four players and one coach).

  • Alabama had the most selections for the cover at three, but none were a quarterback (running back, wide receiver, and coach).

  • Aidan Hutchinson was the second defensive player from Michigan to grace the cover (Charles Woodson, 1999 NCAA Football).

  • I'm thrilled that going forward, the most deserving player will be selected without being ineligible simply because they plan on playing college football the next season.




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