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Keep it real: Can Auburn's defense live up to its 90 rating in NCAA Football 14?

If the folks at EA Sports are correct, the Tigers' D will go from awful to one of the nation's best.

Kevin C. Cox

When all the team ratings for the latest installment of EA Sports' beloved college pigskin franchise, NCAA Football 14, were released last month, there were a few surprises. One of the more interesting developments -- at least, for anyone who's paid attention to Auburn in recent years -- was the Tigers' defensive rating. EA scored Ellis Johnson's unit at 90, which happens to be tied for third best in the conference and No. 14 in the nation. Can it possibly live up to such acclaim?

To find out if the Auburn D can become one of the country's best, we need to find out just what it will take to do that. The full list of individual player ratings isn't out yet, but of the Tigers' best 10, six are on the defensive side of the ball:

Defensive Individual Player Ratings
Player Nom de EA Overall Speed Strength Agility Accel Aware
Chris Davis CB #11 91 92 56 91 92 90
Dee Ford RE #95 89 83 75 76 90 77
Jonathon Mincy CB #6 88 91 56 89 93 81
Gabe Wright DT #90 87 69 90 68 77 70
Ryan White CB #19 86 90 54 89 90 80
Angelo Blackson DT #98 86 63 90 62 72 76

By themselves, those numbers don't really mean anything. Sure, we can assume attributes in the upper 80s and 90s are good and those in the 60s and 50s are bad, but to determine how good EA expects these players to be, we'll have to compare the ratings to some from last year's game, NCAA 13. Let's start with the cornerbacks.

With a 91 overall rating, EA is basically saying Chris Davis will be one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Last season, Alabama's Dee Milliner led the SEC with 20 pass breakups, and in NCAA 13 he garnered a 92 overall rating. Davis actually bests Milliner's speed rating of 91, but the Crimson Tide corner scored off the charts in acceleration (98) and was better in agility (93) and awareness (92). So in three categories particularly important for cornerbacks, Milliner outpaced Davis, though it wasn't a runaway. Auburn's projected top DB will have to put up much better numbers compared to last year -- three pass breakups, zero picks -- to earn his 91.

Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White check in with similar scores across the board. NCAA 13 rated Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks at 88 overall, and all he did was tie for third in the SEC with four interceptions and tie for seventh with 11 passes defended, parlaying his performance into a second-round selection in April's NFL Draft. Banks' NCAA 13 acceleration (92) falls in between Mincy and White in 14, and his speed (91) is tied with Mincy and a tick ahead of White. Where the newly-minted Tampa Bay Buccaneer pulls ahead is awareness (88), possibly the most important attribute for a corner. If Mincy and White meet their ratings, it's highly doubtful they'll be as good as Banks was last season, but they should be a lot closer to him than to the 2012 versions of themselves.

At the end of the year, Dee Ford may very well be Auburn's best defensive player, so it's a minor upset that EA doesn't list him at No. 1 in the new game. Ford's strength and agility scores are decidedly mediocre, but his speed -- a useful tool for a rush end, you know? -- is mighty impressive. Are you ready for a good laugh? Yes? In that case, take a gander at Jadeveon Clowney's NCAA 13 ratings:

Player Nom de EA Overall Speed Strength Agility Accel Aware
Jadeveon Clowney RE #7 91 77 75 78 92 81

Go ahead and compare those to Ford's numbers. Pretty similar, aren't they? Clowney's lead in almost every category, but Ford isn't far behind. Does that mean Auburn is going to have a player who could do things like this:

Welllllllll, probably not. EA severely underrated the best defensive lineman in college football last season, and Auburn fans shouldn't expect Ford to make that much of a jump. Another player underrated in last year's game was Arkansas end Chris Smith (84 overall). Smith has a different skill set than Ford (71 speed, 86 strength), but different paths can lead to the same destination. The Razorbacks' left end tied for fifth in the conference with 13 tackles for loss and was fourth with 9.5 sacks. Those are good ballpark numbers one should expect from Ford this year if EA's prognosticators are up to snuff.

How about the defensive tackles? Gabe Wright and Angelo Blackson are slotted as the men to beat in orange and blue, and their overall ratings seem a bit more realistic. The Tigers' interior defensive line was putrid over the last two years, so any tackle receiving high marks would seem awfully fishy. Without question, the most critical attribute for a DT, at least that EA tracks, is strength, and acceleration is likely No. 2. These guys need to get off the ball and force their way into the backfield, taking opposing offensive linemen with them, if necessary. In last year's game, Vanderbilt's Rob Lohr had an overall rating (86) comparable to Wright and Blackson. The Auburn duo have better strength numbers compared to the Commodore (83), but Lohr had much better acceleration (83). Still, EA is projecting Auburn's tackles to put up Lohr-type numbers this season: 11 tackles for loss, 30 tackles, two sacks. For a run-stuffing DT in a four-man front, that would be a pretty good performance, something the Tigers have been missing from their tackles since Nick Fairley left.

Obviously, the players projected to be Auburn's best could be overcome by others, although that's more likely at some positions -- Blackson at defensive tackle -- than others -- Davis at corner. No matter who leads the Tiger defense, these are the kinds of numbers they'll need to produce if the unit is actually going to meet its 90 rating. And the players not listed here can't be a bunch of bums, either. The unit won't excel if there are six guys playing well and five tripping over their shoelaces.

So what do you think? With a bunch of re-designs to make it more life-like, the theme for NCAA Football 14 is "keep it real." Do you think EA is keeping it real with Auburn's defensive rating, or is the gaming company out of its element. Let us know in the comments -- and feel free to tell us what excites you about this year's game -- and we'll pick someone, maybe multiple someones, to help us out with another post in a couple of weeks, when we again use NCAA 14 as a springboard to discuss real-life football things.

NCAA Football 13 player ratings via Prima Games.

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