Deciding where to go to college was very simple for me. It had nothing to do with a university convincing me to enroll there; it had everything to do with convincing one to actually admit me. N.C. State, for whatever reason, sent me the fat envelope in late 1990, and I said yes on the spot.
What if I had to do it all over again? What if I could have my choice of any university in the country? That's part of the fantasy offered by NCAA Football 13. In the past I've tried to role-play my choice and make it for a player I was controlling. But let's say I was the nation's No. 1 quarterbacking prospect: Could I convince myself to enroll at my real-life school?
In NCAA's "prestige," measure, State is graded a three-star program, out of six, and in the past that's meant it has been difficult to sign the four- and five-star prospects who can turn a program around, even in your own backyard. Some new wrinkles this year are meant to make that more competitive. With N.C. State needing a quarterback after Mike Glennon leaves this year, I figured my alma mater would be as good a test case as any.
The virtual Owen Good was given attributes that placed him at an 84 overall, which would easily make him the best freshman in the nation if he was playing now. However, a scouting mechanic in this year's game now makes prospect evaluation a little bit of a crapshoot early on. Virtual Owen was the No. 40 prospect overall in the country, and sixth best at quarterback, even though I knew all of his scores. He was projected to come in at an 82—this dropped him to a four-star recruit instead of a five-star, throwing off my plans somewhat.
Still, his top choices were all of the glamour programs and all spoke to someone looking to get the hell out of his hometown—much like I was 21 years ago (and, ironically, to which I happily returned this month.) LSU was his, er, my No. 1 choice, followed closely by Alabama and Auburn, then Southern California and Texas.
After fully scouting myself out I set to work recruiting myself. For those who don't play, this is simulated in a series of phone calls, dealing with up to six topics, in which you find out what a recruit is interested in, sell him on what your university has to offer, badmouth your rivals, offer a scholarship, even guarantee playing time and a national title.
In the first call I discovered that playing time was of low interest to my virtual self. "I think I'd feel more comfortable taking a year to learn a system before starting," I said to myself. That's not good, as it is the best thing I can offer at N.C. State (graded an A+ in that category.) Proximity to home also was of low interest—most accurately reflecting how I'd feel at age 17.
I decided to offer myself a scholarship in week one. No sense waiting for LSU and Alabama and Texas to do it. This was enough to boost State from not on the radar to third in the running in the next week. Maryland also got into the discussion, likewise desperately offering a scholarship.
The second week I noticed that N.C. State's qualities fluctuated slightly. Playing Style, my recruit's issue of Most importance, dropped from a C+ to a C after the Wolfpack lost the season opener to Tennessee, throwing two interceptions in the process. (All games were simulated.) That suggested to me that if I was to take control of the team and throw it on every down, I could probably boost this quality in hopes of impressing my gunslinging blue-chip self. I doubt Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien would ever do anything like that in real life.
Strangely, coach stability—always an unglamorous recruiting pitch during the lifespan of this game—emerges as very important. This is the one thing I can troll LSU and Alabama on, as Les Miles is always rumored to be on the next flight out of Baton Rouge, and Nick Saban is looked on poorly for leaving LSU for the NFL and then slinking away from the NFL to Alabama.) I disparage Les Miles and see results: State gains +97 interest and LSU loses about 60 points.
By week three, State is now my No. 1 school choice. Discovering that championship contention is of high interest, I decide to offer my first of three promises: I guarantee a conference title if I come to State. At week four, my virtual self is ready to schedule a campus visit. The Wolfpack have come back from the season-opening loss and beaten a bunch of cupcakes plus Miami, but I decide to invite myself to Raleigh to see us play No. 6 Florida State. We'll probably get our asses kicked, but it'll be a huge night game, probably, and show me what that feels like. LSU is now a distant second with Maryland pulling into a tie with Alabama for third. I am not going to lose myself to those no-good S.O.B. Terrapins.
I decide to trash Maryland, laughing at their prospects to win a championship and pointing out how mentally unstable Randy Edsall is. I fling some mud on LSU's academic integrity and make another guarantee: I won't recruit any quarterback during my first year on campus.
Promises really goose the recruiting in your favor but you have to fulfill them later. Otherwise, it affects whether recruits will listen to the promises you make (or whether current players will up and leave.) This is so backloaded as to not have much of an impact here, so I go all out and spend the three promises I'm allowed to make, per recruit,
The interest a player has in your school and in others is represented by a progress bar that slowly fills up. My virtual player is steadily coming around to signing with the Wolfpack but Maryland is still lodged in second place in the next week. The Terrapins have gained a little ground, probably trolling us with all that Moo U bullshit, like they also aren't a land grant school.
I point out what a shithole Prince George's County is and that the Terrapins' playing style is about as ugly as their clown costumes, too. In week seven, the day of the big campus visit, State pulls off a miracle and beats No. 10 Florida State 20-16, scoring all 20 points in the second half. The win gets State ranked No. 22, but my virtual recruit grades the visit a B+. I guess the Stately Ladies who escort recruits around campus didn't reciprocate my flirting.
Now the process really bogs down. I have discovered every subject my virtual player is interested in, sold it hard, exploited my rivals' weaknesses, offered everything I could, and for the next five weeks there's still no commitment. North Carolina decides to saunter in with a sales pitch of easy courses, academic fraud and a pre-season job fair with every agent in the country. But it is too late for the Tar Heels.
In Week 10, Arkansas throws a real scare by suddenly jumping up to No. 3 on Virtual Owen Good's school list. It helps they're unbeaten and in first place in the SEC West. But I've managed to sway my recruit's interest in playing time and make it more attractive to him. So I slop the Hogs on that subject and on coach stability, as as John L. Smith is in bankruptcy and the previous office holder wasn't known for keeping commitments, either.
In Week 13, I finally commit to N.C. State. While I should have held the scholarship offer for later—recruits will sometimes accept on the spot if you've really sweet talked them—I get the feeling that with a middle-of-the-road program, if you get in early on a player and make reasonable promises, you should be able to pick up who you want. Reasonable promises include guaranteeing championships because, hey, if you lose, there's always a dashboard quit and a retry until you win.
What I'd really like to see in NCAA Football 14 is for this process to become more of a factor in Road to Glory, the singleplayer career where you do play as yourself, in high school, deciding among offers. I'd like to be able to grade my priorities and have virtual coaches call and try to sweet talk me into signing up. I've tried to role-play that choice so many times and I always end up either going to N.C. State or somewhere completely exotic.
Oh, just for the hell of it, I simulated out the rest of the year. State won the ACC Atlantis division or whatever the hell it is called, meeting Georgia Tech in the title game for a big Tom O'Brien-Paul Johnson rap battle. State, naturally, lost that, and once again had to settle for the Peach-Fil-A Bowl and Atlanta for New Year's, where we've played more than any other school.
But things are looking really good for the next year. I guarantee we're going to win a conference championship. With myself at quarterback.