While the videogame football season starts in August for Madden disciples, college fans anticipate the July release of EA's NCAA football franchise. Like they did with the NFL, Electronic Arts has purchased the exclusive rights to the NCAA license, which means that NCAA Football 06 is the only game in town. I was able to spend some time with the game at this year's E3 show, speak with one of the game's developers, and came away with a good idea of what to expect from the game this year.
Last year, Tiburon introduced the innovative home field advantage, which did a great job replicating how tough it is to play on the road. This year, the focus is on the race for the Heisman. The traditional dynasty mode is still intact, but should you choose the all new Heisman mode, from the time you select your school, to the time you leave, winning the Heisman Trophy is your sole goal. You'll start by creating a player and assigning him a style, like scrambling QB, or pocket QB. You'll then go through a series of drills, and your success will determine your overall skill rating, as well as what schools will offer scholarships. As you progress through your career, your player will not only improve on the field, but his off the field life will change as well. As you get more well known, you'll receiver fan mail, better dorm rooms, trophies, and you'll even be able to track your position in the Heisman balloting. Should you be one of the top five candidates at the end of the year, you'll be invited to the Heisman Award Banquet to see if you'll be named the best player in college football. Once your career is over, you can import your player into Madden 06, or move on to a collegiate coaching career.
On the field, the blocking has been improved with all new pancake blocks to open up big running lanes. To further improve the running game, "Breakaway Control" has been added. These moves are mapped to the right analog stick, and function much like they will in Madden 06. These moves are very effective at breaking tackles, and sidestepping rushing defensive linemen. The game also features all-new spring drills, such as pass skeleton, Oklahoma drill, option attack, and rushing attack.
On the presentation side of things, Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso have improved commentary, and Lee Corso now picks the winner before big games by donning the head of his favored team's mascot. Of course, just like in real life, the home crowd cheers wildly if he picks their team, and boos lustily if he sides against them. Kirk Herbstreit has also worked with the development team to ensure that the toughest places to play have the greatest home field advantage. This means it's going to be more difficult than ever to go into Tennessee or Nebraska and come away with a win.
NCAA Football 06 is looking like it will meet the usual high standards that fans of the series have. Tiburon is not taking any big risks with this year's version of the game, but with a game that is already so deep, they don't really have to.