I wrote last month that a new NCAA Football video game is unfortunately not on the verge of happening. Count me among the ranks of the hopeful, however. There’s just too much money on the table for them not to figure it out eventually. And there’s nothing the NCAA and it’s member schools love more than money. There are billions to be made if the governing body can get out of its own way, so let’s pretend for a minute that they do just that. What exactly could a new college football game with full licensing freedom look like?
We’ve come a long way since 2013 when the last NCAA Football game was developed and published by EA. The DNA of the Madden and FIFA franchises have changed since then, so it follows that some of that would be shared with a new NCAA title. Let’s speculate, and live for a few minutes in a pleasant world where such a thing is even possible.
Overhauled Look, Sound, and Play
When we last saw the college lads on the field, the general sense was that the game was a bit tired in the graphical and animation department, as it seemed every last ounce of the PS3’s prowess had already been mined. NCAA always used the same engine as Madden, so there’s no reason to expect that would change with a new game, and that upgrade would take care of most of the graphical fidelity issues. And since this would be on PS5 or maybe even PS6, you’d expect the smoothness of the animations, especially important in a football game, would also be top-notch.
Another widely seen complaint about NCAA 14 was the quality of the in-game commentary by Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit. Chris Fowler has now replaced Nessler in that pair as ESPN’s top broadcasting team, so there’s no doubt the commentary would get a full next-gen update. EA Tiburon always placed a lot of focus on capturing the peripheral pieces of the true-to-life college experience, with mascots, stadium chants, and the like, so you know that will play a large part again. You’d also expect that they would recreate the full College Gameday broadcast show, complete with screaming fans and entertaining signs behind the live shots.
The game plans in college football itself have changed drastically in the intervening years, so the developers would have the important task of updating the offenses to match the current trends. Wide-open, pass-first offenses like the Air Raid and Pistol-formation attacks are very common now, so it would be important to model those correctly. I would also expect to see a much larger roster of teams, following in the footsteps of FIFA where many smaller leagues are fully represented. So this would likely mean the full roster of Football Championship Subdivision teams and possibly even a selection of HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) teams could be included.
Updated Dynasty Mode
EA’s college football games always had the requisite Quick Game and Season modes, but the bread and butter for most players was the Dynasty mode. This was where every school, no matter the size, could have championship dreams, building their profile over the years and maybe even getting invited to a bigger conference.
The landscape of college football has changed drastically since the last edition of the game, instituting the College Football Playoff (CFP) system beginning in the 2014–2015 season. So the updated Dynasty mode would of course include the new Power 5/Group of 6 structure as well as the CFP setup, putting even more emphasis on the building of a smaller school in order to take advantage of the next conference realignment lottery and give yourself a shot at the big trophy.
One of the most important parts of college football, and also the most beloved aspects of the old games, was the recruiting process. In prior years, you had a certain amount of hours each week, and as the coach had to decide which prospects you would call, interview and visit in person, how you would pitch your school to them, and which duties you would assign your assistant coaches to pursue. In 2014’s version, this system was overhauled to include the RPG elements that have crept into all EA Sports titles over the years.
I would much rather see a return to the individual task system, as it closely mirrors the real thing, instead of just placing points into categories and walking away. Besides, the idea of your coach gaining “XP” for something the players do right, then “leveling up” to get better at recruiting seems preposterous. Real coaching staffs have good and bad recruiters, and that doesn’t change because the team plays better. High school recruits want to play for the best teams, so that certainly needs to be modeled, but it isn’t a function of the coach improving over the course of a season. Here’s hoping they move back away from the RPG-like systems.
The game would also need to implement the early signing period, new to the sport within the last few years. This, combined with students enrolling early to school, could flip the fortunes of a school for the next season, allowing a star quarterback or wide receiver to more realistically start as a freshman and possibly receive stat boosts for having more time to learn the offense.
Additional Game Modes
NCAA 2014 had other modes that I would expect to see resurrected in some form. Road to Glory was always popular among players, though it changed form and name over the years. This mode allowed you to create a player, starting as a high school senior and moving through your college career, with the goal of championships and getting drafted for NFL glory. In past years, this player could be imported to the latest Madden game, allowing your player to see an entire career of football at each level. Create-A-Player is still wildly popular and a great way to put yourself in the game, so I am convinced it would be back in a similar form.
In it’s last few years of existence, the NCAA games had a well-done tutorial mode called the Nike Skills Trainer. This consisted of various drills that taught you the mechanics of playing the game and the intricacies of the real sport at the same time. This could come back nearly untouched and be just fine.
Both Madden and FIFA have taken steps to put an arcade-like mode in their games over the last few years. For Madden 21, this is taking the form of The Yard, a recreation of backyard football with an arcade feel and lots of customization options. I would be shocked if we didn’t see some version of this in a new NCAA game. Many players my age would love to see a return of NFL Street or NFL Blitz, with over-the-top action and even powerups, so something along those lines would be a welcome addition. If and how the staid and stuffy governing body would allow this to be done is highly debatable, but these modes have been popular in their other franchises so I would expect it here as well.
The 800-pound gorilla in sports gaming these days is EA’s Ultimate Team behemoth, where online gaming meets create-a-team meets card collecting. There is no way on earth that this wouldn’t be included with any new version of NCAA Football, as it is an absolute cash cow for EA. Ultimate Team was actually included for the first time in NCAA 2014, but it used NFL players reprising their days of college glory, which skirted the pesky licensing issues. Of course in this idealized dream world, those issues are no longer present, so Ultimate Team could include college players just as the regular modes would.
It makes sense that NCAA Ultimate Team (let’s call it NUT shall we?) would follow closely with its pro sports brethren, because why fix what is earning you billions of dollars (that’s how the saying goes right)? Expect to start your NUT with a few packs of cards to start your team off on the right foot. Because College Fantasy Football is now just as much of a thing as it is for the NFL, this makes a lot of sense and would fulfill a lot of dreams of the “what if Player X had signed with UCF instead of Clemson” type arguments.
From there, your NUT would compete in challenges, solo challenges, and engage in collecting items and earning more Ultimate Team coins to get more player cards and packs of items. And of course, you’d be able to play a full season against your friends’ Ultimate Teams as well, so there would never be a shortage of things to do in the online space. EA constantly gets harassed in the media about the massive amount of micro-transactions present in this mode, but they seem not to care. Granted, they are very busy lighting cigars with the piles of $1000 bills they have laying around, earned from the Ultimate Team fanatics who can’t stop buying new outfits and bling for their players.
So there you have it, just one man’s vision of what the next NCAA Football game could look like. When we might get it is anyone’s guess, but I think COVID may be hastening the approach of enhanced rights for players, as evidenced by the PAC-10 situation. Once the players are successful at taking back at least some control for themselves, I believe we will quickly see a deal figured out that will allow these games to be made once more. Many beers will be drunk on that day, and virtual clashes will once again ring out across the land. May it come to pass sooner than later.
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