Although it can be fun to start a dynasty with a powerhouse program and try to maintain their dominance, it’s also satisfying to take a lower-level team and build them into a national contender.
I’ve chosen some two- and three-star programs that I think are well suited for a rebuilding project. This list includes three major conference programs that have seen better days, as well as two mid-majors on the rise. The player names in this article are based on Fairdale Kings’ rosters, with no edits made to the player ratings. I’ve also included each player’s number and overall rating in case you’re not playing with named rosters.
The Bruins were dominant in the 1980s and had some success in the 90s, but the last decade of UCLA football hasn’t been the same.
Thankfully, the virtual Bruins are set up perfectly for a rebuilding job. For a two-star program, there’s a lot of young talent on this squad, and the ability to tap into the rich California talent pool when recruiting will always help. Your offense should center around junior HB Johnathan Franklin (#23, 89 OVR). There’s good young talent at the skill positions as well, including freshman QB Brett Hundley (#14, 72 OVR), freshman WR Devin Lucien (#80, 73 OVR, 90 speed), and sophomore HB Malcolm Jones (76 OVR). Plus, UCLA’s playbook contains a nice array of offenses, including the Pistol (or “Revolver”) and more traditional sets. UCLA’s chief in-game weakness is the offensive line, so steer clear of some of the slower developing run and pass plays until you’ve solidified that unit.
For a brief time in the 1990s, Northwestern was on top of the college football world, winning consecutive Big Ten titles. But they haven’t won a bowl game since the 1948 Rose Bowl. With the talent on their starting roster, there’s no reason you can’t make that streak end in year one. It all starts with the deadly combination of senior QB Dan Persa (#7, 92 OVR) and senior WR Jeremy Ebert (#11, 89 OVR). Although most of your top talent graduates after year one, sophomore Mike Trumpy (#29, 81 OVR) will be around for a couple more years, as will a couple of solid sophomore wideouts in Rashad Lawrence (#17, 77 OVR) and Tony Jones (#12, 75 OVR). A lot of your recruiting pitches are poor for a major conference school but the A+ in Academic Prestige and A in Conference Prestige will help. Plus, you start with pipelines in Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Florida and California, and as a three-star program, you should be able to pull in good talent right away.
Between 1897-1923, Vanderbilt won 13 conference championships. Since 1923, they’ve won zero. Aren’t they a little past due? Yes, Vanderbilt is the lowest-rated team in the SEC and they only start as a two-star program, but Vandy has pipelines in Florida and Texas, A+ recruiting pitches in Academic and Conference Prestige and a solid young receiving corps. Priority No. 1 should be recruiting a solid quarterback, although freshman Lafonte Thourogood (No. 7, 69 OVR) can be a decent placeholder for a couple years. Your future stars on offense are sophomore WR Jonathan Krause (No. 17, 79 OVR) and sophomore HB Wesley Tate (No. 24, 76 OVR), while the defense offers sophomore FS Kenny Ladler (No. 27, 77 OVR). The roster doesn’t have many highly rated players, but there are enough young players rated in the 70s overall that you’re unlikely to fall off a cliff. Vanderbilt starts off as the bottom-dweller in the game’s highest-rated conference, but with that challenge comes a huge opportunity. Having a decent record in the SEC leads to rankings, good bowl bids, and higher prestige. Before long, you can make the Commodores respectable.
In some ways, taking Southern Methodist University to the top of the NCAA football word would represent the culmination of the ultimate rebuild. The SMU football program is the only program in NCAA Division 1 history to receive the “death penalty.” The Ohio State and Miami scandals absolutely pale in comparison to what happened at SMU, which was banned from fielding a team during the 1987 season and chose to cancel the 1988 season because of a lack of quality players. But things are looking up for the Mustangs, on the real and virtual fields. You’ve got a talented roster, headlined by junior QB Kyle Padron (No. 2, 91 OVR) and junior HB Zach Line (No. 48, 91 OVR). SMU also offers classic uniforms, a wide-open passing offense and the ability to recruit in Texas. Since realignment is all the rage, try moving SMU to the Big 12 after year one and show the other schools in Texas that you’re not a punching bag anymore.
Thirty years ago, the University of Central Florida played in Division III. Last year, they won 11 games en route to a conference championship and beat Georgia in a bowl game. That’s a lot of progress. UCF has a terrific sophomore quarterback, Jeff Godfrey (No. 22, 87 OVR, 83 speed) as the centerpiece of the offense. UCF doesn’t have the best recruiting pitches, but with starting pipelines in Florida and Georgia, coupled with a three-star prestige rating, you’re not in bad shape. Your talent isn’t entirely senior-heavy, either, so if you can recruit the right pieces to put around Godfrey, you could have a dominant offense by the third year. Junior HB Brynn Harvey (No. 34, 87 OVR) is also fun to use, and the wide variety in UCF’s playbook keeps things from getting boring. Houston and Tulsa are your only real competition in Conference USA, so this team is poised to make the jump to the Big East when you’re ready.
In this game, it’s possible to build any team into a power with enough time and patience. The key is choosing a school that makes the process enjoyable. The schools in this article feature a variety of play styles and contexts, but they all have the potential to contend sooner rather than later.
Have any OS readers had success using these teams? What are your favorite teams to build or rebuild?