July 22, 2024

Colorado’s offense? USC’s defense? EA Sports’ initial College Football 25 rankings don’t reflect reality

It’s rankings week for EA Sports College Football 25. My big takeaway: It’s a good thing there will be future updates because these rankings are, ahem, questionable.

EA Sports upon the release of the rankings stated that its development team “meticulously examined hundreds of thousands of data points to arrive at our team power rankings.” There is a lot of data to parse when it comes to power rankings and it’s easy to cherry-pick stats that support an argument. It’s why I think the best power ratings — like those from ESPN’s Bill Connelly — are data driven to remove subjectivity.

But no matter what data point you use, it’s almost unthinkable Colorado could rank as EA Sports’ No. 8 offense (89 overall). Here’s a few data points to chew on about Colorado from the 2023 season:

  • 99th in yards per play out of 133 teams
  • 82nd in yards per game
  • 60th in points per game

Does any of that sound like a top-10 offense to you? EA Sports also stated it relied heavily on “help from our friends at PFF” to determine its power rankings. Well, PFF’s offensive rating system placed Colorado 81st in the FBS last year.

You’re probably thinking: That was last year! The Buffaloes have star quarterback Shedeur Sanders, a new OC and one of the best wide receiver groups in the Big 12. Sure. All correct. They also have to replace their entire offensive line and still be able to run the football.

I’m not just picking on Colorado, by the way. Here’s some data on EA Sports’ No. 10 offense, the Clemson Tigers (87 overall), from last season:

  • 98th in yards per play
  • 52nd in points per game
  • 91st in offense per PFF
  • 66th overall per SP+

Clemson didn’t even add anyone via the transfer portal. It’s OK to assume some growth from quarterback Cade Klubnik in his second season under OC Garrett Riley. I’m also excited to see five-star freshman receiver TJ Moore, who will bring a vertical element to the passing attack the Tigers have lacked. But there’s no evidence Clemson will be even close to a top 10 offense after ranking 72nd or worse in yards per play each of the last three seasons.

There are some ridiculous snubs, too.

Ole Miss ranks 13th (87 overall) despite returning eight staters, adding multiple impact pieces in the portal and coming off a season where it ranked 21st nationally in yards per play. Tennessee, which had a top 20 offense a season ago and is fronted by one of the best offensive head coaches in the country (Josh Heupel), doesn’t even crack the top 25! Meanwhile, schools like NC State (90th in yards per play in 2023) and Penn State (75th in yards per play) sit in the top 15. 

The defensive rankings aren’t much better!  

The best way to view that is through the lens of USC. The Trojans were so bad on defense last year it cost Alex Grinch his job midway through the season and meant Caleb Williams, one of the most special QBs of this generation, didn’t even come close to sniffing a Pac-12 title. That defense, albeit with some major changes this offseason, checked in at No. 16 (86 overall) in EA Sports’ initial rankings.

Meanwhile, USC’s offense ranks 25th. This is despite Lincoln Riley coaching a top 10 offense in terms of yards per play every season since 2016. You bet on the Trojans’ firepower, not their ability to defend others. And by the way, giving Zachariah Branch an 83 speed rating? He ran a 10.33 100-meter dash in high school. Get out of here!  

USC, which ranked 104th nationally in yards allowed per play last season, somehow has the same defensive power rating as Wisconsin (25th) and Virginia Tech (28th).

It’s not just USC that’s an issue.

LSU has the excellent Harold Perkins (40), but there’s no evidence it has the nation’s No. 18 defense

LSU was horrendous on defense last year (109th nationally) and didn’t come close to filling all its defensive line needs in the transfer portal. But the Tigers check in at No. 18 (84 overall). Florida ranks 25th in overall defense per EA Sports a season after it ranked 122nd nationally in yards allowed per play.

Meanwhile, Iowa checked in outside the top 10 at No. 13 despite returning nine starters from what was the No. 1 defense in college football last season.

Again, these rankings are projections. They are at least somewhat subjective depending on what dataset you look at. But if this game is truly meant to reflect the real world — and that’s the big appeal with players appearing in the game for the first time with their own likeness — then we shouldn’t have such egregious ranking issues upon this game’s release.

No game is perfect, and I’m still thrilled to have it back. I eagerly await July 19. I also eagerly await that first ranking update.