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A college football video game is almost back in our lives. After a decade-plus without an entry in its highly regarded series, EA Sports confirmed that "EA Sports College Football 25" will release this summer. In anticipation of the return, EA released a teaser on Twitter that has been viewed over 28 million times. 

An iconic aspect of the series has been its cover art. Each iteration from 1997-2013 featured a different cover athlete, giving a spotlight to a prolific player from the most recent season. So, for example, NCAA Football 14, which was released in July 2013, displayed Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson on its cover. Robinson played his last season with the Wolverines in 2012 and was selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. 

But what about the years since? The NCAA Football series ended with NCAA Football 14, leaving a decade of unfulfilled covers in its wake. With hype building towards the series' revival and speculation flying around as to who should be on the return game's cover, it felt appropriate to fill in that gap and take a look at who should have graced the cover in each year during the game's hiatus. 

Now, athletes on this list were determined in the same manner that EA typically utilized in the years before NIL reform: In order to be included, the player must have either ran out of eligibility or declared for the NFL Draft in the same year that the game would have been set to release. 

NCAA Football 15

Cover athlete: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M 

This seems like an obvious choice. Manziel is one of the most electric -- and polarizing -- players in the history of the sport. He redshirted in his inaugural season with the Aggies and made waves as a first-year starter in 2012, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. He followed that up with an All-SEC selection in 2013 after throwing for over 4,000 yards and accounting for 46 total touchdowns. His "money" celebration became iconic, and he earned the moniker "Johnny Football," a nickname he was able to trademark in 2013. He was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and though his NFL career didn't work out amid myriad off-field controversies, Manziel remains an iconic figure in the college football pantheon and would have certainly fit perfectly on a video game cover. 

NCAA Football 16

Cover athlete: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon 

This was a very difficult cut to make, and it came down to a pair of quarterbacks that led their teams to a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff: Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston. Both won the Heisman, with Winston following in Manziel's footsteps as a freshman winner while also becoming the youngest player to ever take the Heisman home. Winston and Mariota were taken back-to-back with the first two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. What sets Mariota apart, however, is his consistent success. While Winston won the Heisman in 2013, he actually regressed a bit in 2014 while throwing 15 fewer touchdowns and eight more interceptions. From 2013-14, Mariota produced 8,119 yards passing and 73 touchdowns with just eight interceptions while rushing for almost 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns. It also helps that Mariota plays for Oregon and its imminently marketable uniforms, which look great emblazoned on any promotional material.  

NCAA Football 17

Cover athlete: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

One of just a few non-quarterbacks on this list, Henry is a force of nature. He immediately stands out on the football field; as a junior at Alabama, he was listed at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds. Just look at these pictures from the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship: 

That's Henry next to former Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, who was in the prime of his NFL career at the time. Speaking of that national title game, Alabama beat Clemson thanks in large part to 158 yards rushing and three touchdowns from "King Henry." That capped a 2015 season in which Henry won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Doak Walker Award and Walter Camp Award while doling out highlight-worthy stiff arms and wrecking-ball runs along the way. The only problem here is figuring out how to fit his immense frame on the actual cover art. 

NCAA Football 18

Cover athlete: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson 

Watson is one of the most decorated collegiate quarterbacks in recent memory, though he never even was a Heisman. He was a finalist twice, finishing top three in 2015 and 2016. He did, however, win two Davey O'Brien Awards, two Manning Awards and was twice named the ACC Athlete of the Year. He was the ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the Year while earning consensus All-American honors in 2015. Just months before he would have graced NCAA Football 18's cover, he led Clemson to a national title and was named MVP of the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. 

NCAA Football 19

Cover athlete: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville 

Jackson is a factory of electricity. One of the greatest mobile quarterbacks to ever grace the game, he led the ACC in yards rushing, rushing yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns from 2016-17. He had at least 3,000 yards passing in each of those two years, as well. His 5,114 total yards and 51 total touchdowns earned him the 2016 Heisman Trophy, and he was back-to-back ACC Player of the Year in his two years as a starter. Jackson also produced one of the most iconic and eye-popping plays of the last decade: 

A picture of that hurdle, in which he leaped over a full-grown adult and somehow maintained his balance to score while angling toward the sideline, would make a cover for the ages. 

NCAA Football 20

Cover athlete: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma 

Murray effectively had one season as a starting quarterback -- he played sparingly as a freshman at Texas A&M, transferred to Oklahoma and had to sit out 2016 before sitting behind Heisman winner Baker Mayfield in 2017 -- but what a year it was. He had 4,361 yards passing and 1,001 yards rushing while amassing 54 total touchdowns. That earned him the Heisman as Oklahoma rolled to a Big 12 title and a College Football Playoff berth with Murray calling the shots. Adding to his profile as a standout athlete, Murray was selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, but he obviously elected to stick with football. 

NCAA Football 21

Cover athlete: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU 

Another easy pick, Burrow was the figurehead for one of the most prolific offensive teams in college football history. He put together a legendary 2019 campaign in which he completed 76.5% of his passes for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns (FBS record) and a 202.0 passer rating (FBS record), all of which paced the NCAA. Burrow's 65 total touchdowns also set an FBS record at the time. It's one of the greatest single seasons we have ever seen, regardless of position, and LSU benefitted mightily from it. The Tigers went 15-0 while winning both the SEC and their first-ever College Football Playoff national title. Burrow won every conceivable award, earned consensus All-American honors and raked in various "Player of the Year" nods. 

NCAA Football 22

Cover athlete: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson 

When it comes to generational quarterbacks, Lawrence is the prototype. He didn't even lose a game as a starter, dating all the way back to his sophomore year of high school, until January 2020 when Clemson fell short against LSU in the College Football Playoff National Championship. In 2018, he became the first freshman to start in a national championship game since 1985 and earned offensive MVP honors while leading Clemson to a 44-16 win against Alabama. He finished his three-year career with the Tigers with a 34-2 record and fell short of guiding Clemson to the national title game just once. Though he never won the Heisman, Lawrence achieved just about everything else a quarterback could and closed the book on his collegiate career as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. 

NCAA Football 23 

Cover athlete: Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia

The 2021 season was marked by its defensive standouts. Half of the first 10 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft played on the defensive side of the ball. Though Davis fell just outside that range, and it's very rare that an interior defensive linemen gets the recognition befitting an NCAA Football cover, it's not hard to make a case for his inclusion on this list. In 2021, Georgia blitzed its way to a 14-1 season and a national title on the back of one of the best defenses we've ever seen. The best player on that defense? Davis, a freak of nature that won both the Chuck Bednarik Award (think of it as the defensive Heisman) and Outland Trophy. He then ran a 4.78-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, becoming just the third player over 330 pounds to do so. It's almost unheard for a defensive player to grace a video game cover, and even more outlandish for a defensive lineman, but Davis would be the right guy to make that kind of history.

NCAA Football 24

Cover figure: Mike Leach

Finally, the last hypothetical release before the NCAA Football series makes its grand return, and the cover athlete isn't an "athlete" at all. Instead, the honor falls to Mike Leach, the legendary former coach who tragically died in December 2022. Known for his many eccentricities and odd press conference moments, including the time he debated which Pac-12 mascot would win in a battle royale, Leach is a beacon for the weird and wonderful sport that we love. He also left a lasting impact on the field, as his innovative Air Raid scheme has defined how a lot of modern offenses adapt their game plan. All this without even mentioning his on-field accolades: Leach amassed a 158-107 record in 21 years as a head coach and led his teams to a bowl game in all but three years during that span. He more than deserves the tribute, and there's nothing from this cycle that could come close to surmounting his spot as the cover figure.