For those of us who have been through the Dark Ages, Friday was like Christmas. Or, maybe more aptly, like the random October day you fumbled your way into the hall closet and found the Christmas gift coming your way in 2 months.

EA Sports’ beloved college football game is back, and it finally felt real on Friday, when the game developer dropped our first extensive look at “College Football 25.” A nearly 2-minute trailer with game engine footage showed the Boise State bluegrass, the Kinnick Wave, Jalen Milroe spinning himself into a sack, the Oregon Duck on a motorcycle, exposed back plates, and plenty of turnover props. We have a painstakingly realistic college football game again, folks.

Will it be a Madden re-skin? That won’t be answered until we get our hands on the game. But it is a football sim at the end of the day so how different can EA actually make the 2 games? (Don’t confuse that for a defense of EA Sports; I’m a FIFA gamer who has been repeatedly let down.) But would it matter if the game played like Madden? We wanted a college football game for all the extras.

The pageantry. The sound of Kirk Herbstreit questioning our decision to go for a fourth-and-27 in our own territory. The ability to take Akron from a 1-star prestige rating to a 5-time national champion. EA appears to be bringing back everything that led an entire community to keep the NCAA 14 game — the last entry in the series — alive for over a decade.

EA promises “traditional team run-outs, rivalry rituals, synchronized crowd-chants, loudness meters as well as real game-day audio, fight songs and … mascots.” Dynasty and Road To Glory modes return. Team Builder is back! Cross-platform play will be enabled. Thinking about how many uniform combinations we’ll have available to us is enough to wreck my productivity for the next 2 months.

When the game releases on July 19, our long national nightmare will officially end. Put in your PTO requests now.

Looking ahead, Dynasty Mode is the feature I’m most excited about. College football has changed immeasurably since the last entry in this series was released. The transfer portal should be sprawling. Recruiting should be expansive. What sorts of CEO-level tasks that are on coaches’ plates now will proliferate into the game? Will it be easier to take Akron to a title? Or will my team just get picked over by bigger schools every offseason?

To that end, it might even be more rewarding now to play with a lower-level school than it was in previous versions of the game. Here are 5 schools from outside the Power ranks I can’t wait to turn into modern-day titans.

Appalachian State Mountaineers

App State wasn’t in the game the last time EA produced a college football sim. Much has changed. Since jumping to the FBS level in 2014, only 8 FBS schools have a better winning percentage than the Mountaineers, who have gone 95-35. Power 5 coaches have come through the school. Eight 9-win seasons have been produced since the FBS jump. And App State has done all this without really making much of an impact at the NFL Draft; the school hasn’t had a player drafted in the first 2 rounds since 2012. Plus, look at Kidd Brewer Stadium! It’s beautiful! And The Rock has also been a pretty intimidating place to play since its opening. App State is 268-79-5 all-time at home, including 52-10 since making the FBS jump.

This is a fabulous program already. It could quickly become one of those niche favorites for gamers who don’t want to take the SEC/Big Ten path. But more than anything, this is also a good football team with an under-the-radar baller at quarterback. The Mountaineers ended 2023 ranked No. 24 in offensive SP+ and opened 2024 at No. 47 overall.

Wyoming Cowboys

Laramie is fun. That’s pretty much it. Wyoming has bowl victories in 3 of the last 5 seasons, but the school has won more than 9 games in a season only once since the start of the 1990s. Craig Bohl has been the head coach since the last game came out but when you can’t win with Josh Allen as your quarterback, it’s time for a change. I look forward to dominating the Mountain West before moving to the Big 12 and establishing Wyoming as America’s Cowboys.

Washington State Cougars

Washington State (and Oregon State) as a non-Power conference team is still not something that feels real. The school became nationally known under the late, great Mike Leach and Jake Dickert seemed to have things on the right trajectory until the Pac-12 imploded and the Cougars were left without a home in the remade college landscape. The Cougars are going to play Washington in 2024, as well as 6 Mountain West schools. They’ll keep the Pac-12 logo on their jerseys and on the field inside Martin Stadium. All the while, the Cougs and Beavs are looking for a way to rebuild their conference.

In taking over Washington State, you’d get to return the team to the Air Raid, throw it 60 times a game against the Mountain West, cause chaos in the College Football Playoff picture that sought to minimize you, poach teams from other leagues to form a new conference, and then rise from the proverbial dead. The Cougs have been through enough in the last 2 years, it’s time for some payback.

Boise State Broncos

The obvious answer, but still a good one. The blue turf causes headaches for some, but it’s a huge piece of college football lore. Boise will have a pretty strong team in 2024 — one that is perhaps even capable of making it to the College Football Playoff — so you’ll be starting with a strong foundation. The quarterback of the future is in place with former USC blue-chipper Malachi Nelson. And the Broncos are probably going to have a decent prestige rating in-game, so you might be in a good spot from a recruiting standpoint — if that even matters.

But after Chris Petersen and Bryan Harsin made double-digit-win seasons the norm, Boise State has been very un-Boise State in recent seasons. They have just 1 bowl victory in the last 6 seasons (though 2 bowls were canceled and they opted out of the postseason in 2020) and haven’t participated in a New Year’s 6 bowl since 2014. With Boise State, you get a wonderfully deep collection of uniforms, a decent homefield advantage, and a chance to do what hasn’t been done before.

Related: FanDuel currently has Boise State’s 2024 win total set at 8.5 for the upcoming season. The Broncos have to face Oregon in Week 2, but that seems like a pretty easy over based on what is returning. New users that want to wager on Boise State’s total or any other college football futures can score a huge bonus bet on their first win. 

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Tulane Green Wave

Tulane is my top choice and it’s purely for the vibes. In a college football sim where you can turn any school into a champion with enough time and stick skills, isn’t that what we’re really searching for at the end of the day? You get an offense with Ty Thompson, Mario Williams, and Makhi Hughes to start out. You get the coolest uniforms and the coolest logo in the sport. (I will die on this hill.) You get a strong stadium with Yulman Stadium. And you get a program very much on the rise. The school is coming off back-to-back double-digit-win seasons and consecutive appearances in the AAC Championship Game.