By their own admission, many aspects of EA Sports' NCAA Football franchise had begun to grow stale over the years, from the menu navigation to recruiting prospects in dynasty mode to the gameplay itself. Recruiting on NCAA Football '13 in particular has become so tedious that I frequently fall asleep on the couch right in the middle of selling a high schooler on the Kibbie Dome's stadium atmosphere for the gazillionth time. And after I passed out last night, my dog ate the entire bag of celery and carrots I was munching on. She didn't even touch the hummus though. Weird, right?
Big changes to NCAA Football '14
The good news for my vegetable budget is that the fine folks at EA Tiburon have revamped the recruiting feature to make it both simpler and more realistic. The menus eschew the extraneous 3D graphics that made them needlessly frustrating to navigate. And, most importantly, this year's release includes the physics-based animation engine that debuted last year in Madden 13, which should make player actions much more realistic. A component of the so-called "Infinity Engine 2" will be EA Tiburon's new Force Impact System that seeks to replicate how football players actually behave when they are, for example, struck by 275 pound defensive linemen who run 4.5 second 40 yard dashes.
The running game is also getting a serious facelift, which should make playing with spread-to-run offenses like South Carolina's feel much more true to life. The ability of ball carriers to accelerate, make cuts, and stiff-arm defenders in a way that isn't completely ridiculous are expected to create a user experience that is much more realistic. There's one tweak to the running game that I'm particularly excited about though: if you're anything like me, you chalked up your constant inability to run the ball without rear-ending your offensive linemen to your lack of patience and field vision. But there's good news! It turns out that you're not the worst electronic running back of all time but rather on the business end of a gameplay issue that the NCAA Football game designers spent the offseason resolving for you. The AI for ball carriers is being upgraded to allow for running backs to reflexively push off of linemen and avoid pile-ups.
How is South Carolina represented in NCAA Football '14?
A few weeks ago, we discussed the top 10 player ratings for Our Digital Gamecocks. We had some minor gripes, but the folks at EA mostly did a solid job of evaluating the talent on South Carolina's roster.
As it concerns the team as a whole, South Carolina is given an offensive rating of 90 and a defensive rating of 88, good for an overall team rating of 90. (This implies a certain confidence in our special teams unit that I do not share.) While that rating sounds about right for our defense, I think our offense is being sold a bit short here. By comparison, Florida's offense also has a rating of 90. YES, FLORIDA'S OFFENSE. [gouges out his own eyes with a butter knife]
I said this last year and turned out to be wrong, but I believe that this year's unit has the potential to be one of the best offenses in the SEC and in the top 15 nationally. The only real question mark is the receiving corps, which could be anywhere from average to superb based on the talent on the roster. There is certainly enough quarterback skill to give the receivers every opportunity to shine.
Keeping It Real
Personally, I'm the kind of person who is going to buy NCAA Football every year no matter what, but I'm uniquely excited about this year's release. If you've made the decision to sit out the last few releases of EA Sports' NCAA Football because the game had begun to stagnate, it certainly seems like the 2014 edition might be the year to get back into it.
From the recruiting process to the in-game vignettes, their seems to be a renewed focus on helping players to do what they really want to do: manipulate digital facsimiles of their favorite college football players in an effort to play out frustrated fantasies of being a college football coach.
We invite you to "keep it real" (that's the theme of this year's game) in the comments. Let us know which new features you're looking forward to and give us your response to the team and player ratings. We are going to select one commenter (maybe more) to join us for another post where we'll use NCAA Football '14 as a springboard to discuss key issues for this year's Gamecocks.