Because college football styles vary so much from conference to conference, it makes sense that keeping track of all those varying styles of play can be a full-time job. That is exactly the case for Larry Richart and Anthony White, two EA Tiburon producers who maintain the ever-expanding playbooks in both the NCAA and Madden series. In
GameSpot: NCAA Football 07's playbooks have been expanded this year. What areas of the game's playbooks did you focus on specifically?
Larry Richart: Playbooks have undergone the biggest update in the history of the game. The overall playbook size has increased by about 30 percent with each team having an additional three formations and about 50 more plays. We have added over 100 new formations to the game, with 87 offensive and 16 defensive. Some of the new offensive formations include Nevada's pistol formations, South Carolina's Emory and Henry, Illinois' shotgun triple stack, Texas Tech's shotgun cluster, and Florida's shotgun slot F trips. One of the popular offensive styles that has become very common in the college game is the spread offense. With that in mind, we have created some new shotgun QB slot option plays out of multiple formations where the slot receiver can be motioned into the backfield opposite the halfback, and then will become the pitch man for the QB on the option. We have also created some option passes out of these same formations to keep the defense on their toes. We have also created several new pass routes for the receivers that are spread throughout several formations. These routes include post stops, corner stops, sluggos (slant and go's), shallow crosses, and some new double-move routes like shake routes.
Special teams have also undergone some major revamping. To go along with our Turn the Tide feature, we have added several new special-teams trick plays. For field goals, we have added four new trick plays: a shovel pass to the wingback coming underneath, an over-the-shoulder pitch to the kicker, a pitch to the kicker where he can pass it, and an option play where the holder will get up and run with the kicker as his pitch man. For punts, we went a little old school, as we went back and pulled out some footage from the 1980s and found the punt rooskie. This was a famous play used by Bobby Bowden and the [Florida State] Seminoles to defeat Clemson. I have always been intrigued by this play and am very excited that we got it into the game this year. We have also created an option play and an option pass play off the rooskie fake. And finally we have added both kickoff and punt-return reverses and reverse fakes that the user will be able to use.
With all the work on improving the offensive playbooks we haven't forgotten about the defense. For the first time ever we have multiple defensive playbooks based on style as opposed to one global defensive playbook. Each team will be assigned one of the following playbooks based on their style: 4-3, 3-4, 3-3-5, 4-2-5, and multiple D. Each of these playbooks have several new formations and plays, including new versions of the 4-3 (over, under), 3-4 (under, over, solid), 3-3-5 (split, cougar, bear), 4-2-5 (over, under, bear). We have also added the 4-6 bear defense as well as the quarter 3 deep set.
GS: How do you decide the "cutoff line" for the number of new plays added from year to year?
LR: We don't really have a "cutoff" per se, as we will still add new plays up until they tell us not to! During the alpha process we will still be making minor adjustments here and there by tuning different plays to get them to work the way we want them to and at the same time we will also be continuing to brainstorm for new plays.
Anthony White: We're usually adding and making adjustments to plays up to the very last minute, which is right before we go beta. During preproduction we'll sit down with our team of software engineers and discuss what we'd like to have in regards to playbook sizes and they'll try to make it happen for us. We work with some tremendously talented engineers for both current- and next-gen NCAA, who were able to come up with some creative ideas which allowed us to increase the playbook size. With all of the new formations we added to this year's game, there are still roughly 25 to 30 formations we weren't able to get in this time around, but I'd say that 103 is a good start.
GS: If there's one thing you could add to the NCAA Football series, what would it be and why?
AW: I'd add an IAA dynasty mode option that allows you to play in the actual conferences, and at the end of the season if your team is good enough, compete in the IAA playoffs. As for my reasons, I enjoy watching IAA football, especially when it's playoff time.
GS: From your point of view, which NCAA coach or coordinator has the most interesting or innovative playbook and why?
LR:: That's easy. Coach Steve Spurrier. I am biased, of course, but Coach Spurrier has done some unbelievable things in the passing game. From becoming one of the first coaches to really utilize five wide-receiver sets to creating some of the more common route combinations that just about every team uses today, he has made a huge impact on the college game. Some other coaches that I really enjoy watching and have great respect for are Charlie Weiss, Bobby Petrino, and Urban Meyer. All of these coaches do a great job of utilizing multiple formations and always seem to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Their playbooks in the game hopefully represent that by having multiple different formations sets with a unique combination of plays.
AW: Some of my favorite offensive systems are the ones used by Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia; a definite innovator as far as the shotgun running game is concerned. The old BYU offensive system under Lavell Edwards and Norm Chow is another favorite of mine. This is the system that a large part of the Texas Tech air raid offense is based from. June Jones' run and shoot is fun to watch. I've been a big fan of the run and shoot since the days of the old Houston Cougars with Andre Ware and when it was used in the NFL with the Oilers, Falcons, and Lions. The one-back offense that new Idaho head coach Dennis Erickson first made popular when he was the head coach at Miami is also fun to watch. On the defensive side of the ball, I enjoy watching teams that do multiple, yet sound, things on defense such as Southern Miss, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
GS: To do this job, you must love college football. What is it about the game that appeals to you?
AW: I enjoy watching all of the different styles of play. In the college game there are so many diverse styles of play and the games tend to be more wide open. Every week during the season you'll see something different and unique. It didn't hurt either that I grew up in the south where college football is king. Growing up in Mississippi, the closest professional teams were in New Orleans and Atlanta, so the local college teams were in a sense our pro teams.
LR: It's college football. To me, college football is the most exciting sport to watch and to be able to be a part of making this game, it is a great thrill. College football is a much more wide-open type of game as compared to the pros. Take the spread offense, for example, and what Vince Young did in that system last year. You don't see that in the NFL, even with Mike Vick. It gives us an opportunity to be more creative by designing different formations and plays like the QB slot option out of various shotgun formations. We get an opportunity to try and create more unique styles of playbooks, like Nevada's and its pistol formations.
GS: You guys probably watch more college football than anyone else. How do you think the college game has changed over the past, say, 10 years, especially in terms of game planning?
LR: I think the game has changed some with more wide-open offenses, but more importantly, the players have changed. The players are bigger, stronger, and faster than they were 10-15 years ago. You are seeing 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound QBs running 4.5's and having cannons for an arm. And the coaches are better, too. They are better prepared and have taken advantage of technology to make themselves and their teams better.
AW: I think the overall skills of the players today allows coaches on both sides of the ball to be more creative with the things they do. Not only are players bigger, stronger, and faster, but in my opinion they're getting outstanding coaching at the high school and below levels. In turn what you get is more and more true freshmen being able to come right to campus and immediately compete for a starting job. As far as game planning is concerned, you're definitely seeing a trend where more and more teams are basing a large percentage of their offense from the shotgun. Just a few seasons ago this was a small number, but nowadays it's quite common to see the quarterback in the shotgun with four and five receivers. The Big Ten for years has had the reputation of being an I formation, three yards and a cloud of dust league, but this past season seven of its teams based a large percentage of their offense from the shotgun, including Ohio State and Penn State.
On the defensive side of the ball, the use of faster, more athletic players on defense is also quite noticeable. If you look at some of the depth charts from around the country, you're seeing more 210-pound linebackers/safety-type players who can play the run and cover slot receivers in pass coverage. These types of players fit perfectly in the 4-2-5 and 3-3-5 defenses.
GS: Finally, tell us your favorite new play in NCAA Football 07.
LR: There's so many, you want just one? I think I'd have to go with the drive play out shotgun 5WR trio in the Notre Dame playbook (among many others). This play features a new formation, three new pass routes (a slant and go on each side and a wheel stop on the left), and a new route combination by the inside receivers called Drive. This plays gives you plenty of options to throw to as you should be able to find an open receiver.
AW: Shotgun empty trips TE-WR screen. This is a new formation and play where the receiver running the screen goes up the field for a few yards as if he's running a pass route and then comes back behind the line of scrimmage to receive the pass. This allows time for the blocking to set up and hopefully spring the receiver for a big gain.
GS: Great stuff. Thanks for your time, guys.