NCAA Football 2006 Hands-On

Curious as to what's up with EA Sports' upcoming college pigskin game? We uncover the details!

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EA Sports' NCAA series has been the only college football game in town for a while now. So the recent announcement of the publisher snatching up the NCAA collegiate football license was not exactly surprising, and not nearly as surprising as the news of the company's deal to acquire the NFL license in December of last year. Of course, the NCAA Football series is operating in a different environment from the Madden series, as it is free of direct competition right now and, remarkably, the series has remained stable in terms of quality from year to year. In much the same way Madden NFL 06 will need to make an impression now that it's the only pro game in town, NCAA Football 2006 will need to shine in order to maintain the series' relatively sterling reputation.

The game changes but one thing remains the same: Boise State's uniform and grass is still all jacked up.
The game changes but one thing remains the same: Boise State's uniform and grass is still all jacked up.

We've already seen the game's main new addition in a previous preview, the "race for the Heisman" mode, where you'll take a created player throughout his three- or four-year college career in an attempt to be named the best college football player of the year. Here, we want to give you an overview of the rest of the new features of NCAA Football 2006, which you can expect to see more detail on in the coming days and weeks leading up to both E3 and the game's release later this year. So, without further ado, here's a laundry list of what's new in NCAA Football 2006:

Impact Players
In order to win the Heisman Trophy, you're going to need to be a play maker, which is a deadly combination of speed, power, and precision where you can literally change the course of a game with one big play or carry a team upon your shoulders for the length of a game. In the world of NCAA Football 2006, this type of high-octane powerhouse is known as an "impact player." Impact players in NCAA 2006 will be highlighted on the field and be capable of supreme bouts of skill during select moments in the game. If the game is on the line and it's time to step up and make a play, your impact player will be the man to go to, whether on offense or defense. Though you ideally want your created player to become that impact player, a strong team such as USC or LSU might have impact players across several positions, any of which will be able to step up and make a play at any time. Plus, when these elite athletes really hit their stride and get "in the zone," their abilities will increase into near-gamebreaker status a la NFL Street to help you clear a path on the road to victory. Not every impact player can become a Heisman winner, but even if you don't take home the trophy, you can still become a legend at your school (and improve your Madden NFL 06 draft ranking while you're at it).

A New Look, A New Feel
Let's face it, only a select few college football players even are considered NFL material. Most college ballers are simply above-average athletes who find their way onto a team thanks more to hard work than God-given talent. The player models in NCAA 2006 have been overhauled to reflect the slightly more modest look of most college football players. Sure, you've still got your beef on the lines, but for the most part, the player models will be slightly thinner and slightly less muscular than their pro counterparts, all in keeping with the collegiate air of the game. These player models are bolstered by a host of new animations, numbering somewhere in the 300 to 400 range. Especially welcome are some new juke animations, reflecting an altered control scheme that will let you dodge right, left, or back with the right analog stick. Speed burst is now tied to the X button, which will also allow you to scramble out of the pocket when playing as the quarterback. A subtle change, but one that seems to make the most sense to your thumbs. Of course, this means the X receiver will now be assigned to the triangle button, but we doubt this will disrupt the passing game too much.

For those who love to run the ball as much as the college game demands it, some offensive line-blocking artificial intelligence tweaks have been included to make running both up the middle and outside more effective than ever. For fans of the option, it looks like the EA developers have taken to heart the concerns players had over the option play, as halfbacks will now more closely follow their lead blockers, which, in effect, could make the option play more effective than ever before.

Finally, the broadcast team of Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, and Brad Nessler is still intact, and the new look of studio-style game introductions inch ever closer to that ESPN College Game Day presentation style that fans of college ball love. And yes, love him or hate him, you knew it was coming: The Coach will don a gigantic mascot head when predicting his winner.

Gentleman, we introduce the back juke. You'll be avoiding defenders with the right analog stick in NCAA Football 2006.
Gentleman, we introduce the back juke. You'll be avoiding defenders with the right analog stick in NCAA Football 2006.

Matchups and Dynasties
While the good news is that popular features of the series, such as the matchup stick and create a sign, return in NCAA Football 2006, the series' always-involving dynasty mode will be tweaked as well. Of course, you can expect the game to completely comply with the newly realigned conferences, such as Conference USA and the ACC, but the changes go much deeper than that. EA admitted that some of the flaws in last year's dynasty mode--too many upsets in simulated games and an overly fanatic discipline system that could easily unduly hurt your program--have been addressed. Even better, the recruiting system has received some substantial tweaks, including goodies such as in-season recruiting and an expanded pipeline system.

With pipelines, you'll be building direct feeds into neighboring regions to your home school in order to grab the best talent from those regions. The more you make your presence known in a particular area, and the better your team does, the stronger that pipeline becomes and the better chance you have of stealing away talent from rival teams. Of course, part of stealing talent comes in knowing as much as you can about the athletes you're looking for, and NCAA 2006's improved scouting mechanics will give you accurate ratings based on scouting reports you assign to staff members. Once you've got some target talent, it will be up to you to pitch that potential recruit on any number of motivational aspects: playing time, academics, coaching style, school prestige, program prestige, and so on. The system will keep track of the types of pitches you use on a particular player, so you won't have to worry about unduly repeating yourself (unless you want to). You'll also get more detailed feedback from your potential recruits, which will give you a better idea of how to approach them on the next go-round.

In-season recruiting is the biggest addition to NCAA 2006's dynasty mode and, as the name implies, adds a year-round approach to picking talent for your team. As your season progresses, you can keep an eye on a recruiting board that will list the top players in the nation and their interest level for their top schools. As you might expect, a player's interest level can be manipulated, provided you've got something to offer. That's where an on-campus visit will be ideal. Yes, that's right, you'll be able to schedule on-campus visits for those top recruits you're really going after. If you're smart, you'll schedule the visit on the weekend of a big game. Be careful, though, because if you come away with a big win over a rival, you'll likely have an excited prospect looking for a dotted line to sign on; but tank the rivalry game and all you'll be met with is blank stares and unreturned phone calls. In-season recruiting will often result in soft verbal agreements, but you'll still need to spend points on recruiting those players as the season continues.

NCAA Football 2006 is looking to cover a lot of ground this time around. For those who hate recruiting, the first-person approach of the race for the Heisman mode will be ideal. Those looking for more meat on the dynasty side will likely also be pleased due to some of the noticeable upgrades. We'll have much more on NCAA Football 2006 as we approach the game's release later in the year.

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