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9 Things We Loved, and Loved to Hate, About EA Sports’ NCAA Football

The NCAA Football video game is set to return in 2024 after player likeness and NIL issues were resolved.

Gamers will be getting a long-awaited treat in 2024: EA Sports will bring back its popular NCAA Football franchise after stopping the initial run of games with the 2013 release due to legal disputes surrounding the NCAA and use of player likenesses.

With that in mind, we took a trip down memory lane and picked our favorite—and less than favorite—aspects of the game. Not everything below will be included in the new game (au revoir, BCS), but we sure hope many of them will return.


Best “cheat code”–level players

Anyone who played any of the previous renditions of NCAA Football would tell you that there were absolutely, 100%, no player names used in any of the games. However, that didn’t prevent EA Sports from spelling out, very clearly for gamers, who was who.

Who could have guessed who the “impact” USC quarterback who wore No. 7 was for a Trojans team that also featured a dynamic running back, who wore No. 5, during the 2005 college football season? And what if that team played a Texas team led by a dual-threat quarterback who wore No. 10 in the national championship? The secrecy!

Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Vince Young were just a few of the most unstoppable players to cross through the NCAA Football franchise. Of course, there were plenty of other dominant characters to play as, including Florida’s Tim Tebow (NCAA Football ’10 and ’11), West Virginia’s Pat White (’09), Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (’13) and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (’14). Outside of QBs, there were running back staples like Mark Ingram and Darren McFadden or defensive stars like Jadeveon Clowney and James Laurinitis that could disrupt any game at any time.

There was always the option to edit rosters and enter names for specific players, which was undoubtedly a highlight and a unique way to put your college football fandom to the test. With EA Sports reaching an agreement to use the virtual likeness of actual FBS players in the forthcoming 2024 game—and have those same players receive compensation for their inclusion in the game—gamers will get the chance to know the name of every real player who opts in, from the starting QB all the way down to the third safety.

Building a national championship team with a terrible football school 

Art often imitates life, even in the college football video game world. If the likes of Ohio State, Texas, Florida and Alabama were winning national championships in the real world, chances are they were also dominating in NCAA Football.

Well unless, you, the user, chose to take command of the Toledo Rockets and lead them to a thrilling 42–35 victory over USC in the 2007 national championship game.

One of the true delights of every NCAA Football game was to search for one of the lowest-rated programs, particularly one that lacked a true football pedigree, and do your best to lead that team to the top of the mountain. Depending on how steep that mountain was to climb, it may have taken multiple seasons and recruiting classes to get there, but that was part of the fun. Next thing you know, UMass might be the game’s new preseason No. 1, while the perennial powerhouses were forced to go back to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong.

For those who played NCAA Football ’14, the gap between Georgia State (60 overall rating) and Alabama (99) was nearly insurmountable. But therein lies the challenge—one that never got old.

Sports Illustrated covers

In 2003, the release of NCAA Football 2004 came with a fun, new wrinkle: weekly virtual issues of SI to highlight the biggest moments and stars while you were going through a season. Sure, beating your archrival in Week 1 was awesome, but doing so while your 200-yard running back landed that week’s cover of SI was even sweeter. Unfortunately, the SI tie-in lasted only three seasons, as the folks at EA would eventually use the same idea for weekly ESPN the Magazine issues once it entered a deal with the Worldwide Leader for its 2007 version of the game.


Road to Glory/Campus Legend

Trying to create a dynasty with a full team was always a bit daunting and may have lacked that personal touch so many college football fans craved. Thankfully, those looking for a “MyPlayer” experience were always in good hands with NCAA Football.

The “Campus Legend” game mode, which later turned into “Road to Glory,” allowed users to create and play as a single player and guide him from being a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed high schooler to a Heisman Trophy contender. These modes had some of the most specific details you could think of, including the chance to compete in your fictional player’s high school playoff tournament or the opportunity to juggle college classes and extracurriculars on top of his budding football career.

Yes, there were real tests, and your player even earned a GPA, which may have been a bit much in hindsight, but the game mode still delivered year in and year out.

Playing God with realignment

Our current era of bloated super conferences and membership instability for the also-rans began in the summer of 2010. The then Pac-10 was on the precipice of poaching six Big 12 schools—Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado—only to fall short and have to settle for Colorado and Utah. Meanwhile, the Big Ten stole Big 12 power Nebraska, while the SEC took Texas A&M and Missouri, and conferences like the ACC and Big 12 scrambled to keep up. We all know what happened a few years down the line, as we barrel toward a Big Ten that includes USC and UCLA and an SEC that features Texas and Oklahoma.

In a prescient move, EA’s developers eventually gave players the opportunity to move teams around. Of course, our first move was to accelerate that super conference timeline we were all promised during that chaotic 2010 offseason. We made the Pac-16 dreams real, destroyed the ACC at the benefit of the Big Ten and SEC and basically left the other Power 6 conferences (remember that time in our lives?) scrambling to look better than the MAC or Sun Belt.

Virtual Lee Corso!

College football Saturdays for the last several decades have meant enjoying Coach don mascot heads for his weekly picks, many renditions of “Not so fast, my friend” to counter someone else’s thought and boundless joy about the game. No virtual college football experience would have ever been complete without Corso’s presence. Yes, if you play a game long enough you will grow a bit tired of the recycled dialogue, but it’s pretty hard to get mad at the man who made waking up at an ungodly hour on Saturday mornings worth it.

Simulating games to get just the right formula for your team

Let’s say going into conference championship weekend your middle-of-the-road power conference team was ranked in the top 10 but had virtually no chance of sniffing a national title spot. Do you (a) enjoy that Fiesta Bowl invite or (b) mess around with the other games on the schedule in hopes something wild happens? We’re not saying we always played a game of alternate history and saved our progress only when it went our way… but we’re not not saying that, either.

Georgia upset No. 1 Auburn in Atlanta? Save. No. 2 Ohio State winning comfortably against Michigan State? Let’s try this one a few more times.

Hating the BCS even in this made-up world

Few things in college football history have been more hated than the dreadful BCS era. So many controversial decisions to determine who would face off in the national championship enraged fans year after year—Nebraska finishing No. 2 in 2001 ahed of a Colorado team it had just been crushed by and the Joey Harrington–led Oregon team that probably deserved the spot the most; USC splitting a national title with LSU in 2003 even though this system was supposed to prevent such a thing from happening. So in an annoying but fitting way, it kinda makes perfect sense that the folks at EA Sports brought those hair-pulling decimal points to the game. How enraging was it to finish 0.038 points behind the No. 2 team in the fake BCS rankings and have to settle for the Orange Bowl? Probably not as bad as it felt for the real aforementioned Ducks or Buffaloes, but hey, you can’t have a genuine college football experience without the nonsense, right?

Mascot games

As important as it is to create a dynasty that spanned decades in a fictional college football landscape, the primary goal of playing any video game is to have fun. And what could be more fun than trying to see whether 11 Stanford Trees could slow down the potent passing game of a roster full of Otto the Oranges?


Choosing to take a break from your highly competitive, extremely important Dynasty Mode program to see which school would fare best if 11 identical mascot figures were the representatives on the gridiron was always a highlight of the NCAA Football video games. Whether it was the Florida Gators vs. the Colorado Buffaloes or the Boise State Broncos vs. any of the various teams named Wildcats, watching mascots duke it out on the field was always a good time and perhaps the unequivocal, best way to determine which mascot really is the best in all of college sports.