So NCAA Football 2007 is exciting! And, er, well, pretty much exactly the same as NCAA Football 2006. Which was itself pretty much the same as NCAA Football 2005. But look at all the new, temporarily accurate rosters and ratings to obsessively tinker with over the next eight months!
I really do update the rosters and numbers to my own standards with single-minded, rabid compulsivity, a habit I first tried to hide from my current NCAA-playing roommate but now don't even bother to conceal. The continued improvement of the EA Sports games has had the side effect of making me crazy about getting every element of the virtual game as close to the real game as possible: if the quarterback from Akron is rated four points too high, my entire dynasty feels fraudulent and uneasily teetering on the edge of absurd unreality.
Which is one reason I'd like to see both NCAA and Madden - which I barely even looked at last year - drop the number ratings altogether and go to a player evaluation system that looks like what they currently do for the draft and recruiting: list player 40 times, bench press and squat numbers and generic descriptions for certain abilities, i.e. "great hands" or "poor arm strength," etc., rather than be so specific as to say "78 speed," as the former is what a coach actually has to work with (and will not make me say, "Hey, Video Brady Quinn should be a 65 speed, not a 62!")
That meta-complaint aside, this version - at least for the PlayStation 2 - is not any major leap or fall. Some of the pre-snap controls are different, but not so much that you won't be able to get the snap off. The biggest problem on that front is the inability to cycle backwards through players on defense: the 'X' button does something different now (I'm not even sure what yet), and you can only go forward from player to player using the 'O' button. This seems like a very small thing, but you underestimate how often you 'overshoot' the guy you want, and it's not a good thing when the ball's snapped and you're unexpectedly stuck on a cornerback you can't see who's supposed to be in man coverage.
Otherwise, there are a lot of interesting-looking, tricky, fun new plays like screens and reverses, which actually can be successful but are still more curiosities to be pulled out at the right time more than anything else; ditto the very, very cool fake punts and field goals now available. I may just start running those instead of kicking, which now incorporates the dreaded analog stick and is suddenly a hell of a lot tougher than in the past. And if you're a step or two slow, as advertised, the defense will block that shit.
Expanded playbooks=very good thing. Twelve formations can be called up now, instead of just nine, though there are so many formations and plays at this point, it's anyone's guess how you'll ever figure out which ones are the best fit for your game. I like to run a lot of different formations with the ability to run and play-action out of all of them, and since line play and visual restrictions make staying in the pocket impractical most of the time, I put a premium on a good running QB. None of that appears to have changed any, including the old "roll out, draw the defense up and hit the intermediate flag over their head" strategy. I audibly gasped at a couple of new plays, like the I-form play-action screen to the tailback, a similar fake toss screen to the flanker, option passes out of the shotgun and shotgun read options which read off a handoff to the halfback, then go the other way with a slot guy as pitch man. There's also a nice little quarterback trap play out of the read option set that's pretty when done well, but, like the others in this category, still looks better on paper than in practice.
In other news, Southern Miss' uniforms have no substantial, obvious errors for the first time in the franchise's decade-long run. Also thumbs up on the Madden-like "Spring Drills" additions, which I'm guessing will be an offseason part of dynastys (a la the "Training Camp" feature in Madden games). I'm not likely to take a look at it often, if at all, but the "Campus Legend" looks like a step up from NCAA 2006's basically worthless "Race for the Heisman." New animations, like the drag tackle, look good. I like the defensive playbook options and some of the new formations and plays, including some zone blitzes that fooled my roommate into throwing seven picks in one game with Video Brandon Cox against my Florida defense. There are a few new player celebrations and displays of frustration, which will get old fast but are on the whole good.
Thumbs down to the DBs, who still refuse highest point fundamentals to reach lazily for balls that are easily snatched by more aggressive wideouts on a routine basis. The crowd on PS2 remains flat and unconvincing, the sound is still basically worthless (we listened to reruns of 'Gilmore Girls' and 'Frasier' while we played), and the atmosphere is lacking. A couple years ago, the game added Notre Dame players hitting the "Play Like a Champion Today" before games at South Bend, and it should use this feature for as many stadiums as possible: Michigan players hitting the "Go Blue!" sign, Ohio State sousaphone players "Dotting the i," Tennessee players running through the big "T," Florida players touching the gator head, Clemson players running down the hill, the FSU seminole spiking the flaming spear into midfield, Ralphie, Bevo, the Sooner Schooner, the Wisconsin "Jump Around," etc. etc. If you can put in mascots and eerily accurate stadiums, you can add this element of atmosphere.
Final verdict: this one unfortunately has few changes from NCAA 2006 and looks like it has the potential to grow boring more quickly than previous versions. Hell, I may not even hit 500 games before NCAA Football 2008 comes out.