After five lackluster titles on the current-generation consoles, fans of the NCAA series were finally thrown a bone with the release of NCAA Football 11. With slick graphics, authentic team entrances and an all-new locomotion engine, NCAA 11 was a rebirth for the series. Yes, the game did include a nasty dynasty progression bug and there were definitely some quirks regarding CPU AI, but the on-field gameplay was relatively solid, evoking the same type of addictive feeling within Dynasty mode that was felt during the PS2/Xbox days.
We also got an Online Dynasty mode, complete with the Story Builder feature and Dynasty Anywhere. Gamers everywhere became their local college news agency, trashing their friends after humiliating losses. There is no doubt that productivity at businesses everywhere dropped as employees recruited the next five-star stud.
Building on the solid framework of Bill Walsh College Football 95, College Football USA 96 was the first game to feature all 108 Division I schools, along with predicting the future by allowing gamers to participate in today's traditional BCS bowl games before they were huge money grabs.
The on-field gameplay was solid as well, mostly due to the integration of a five receiver passsing mode and team-specific formations like the Wishbone. This game was reason enough to own a Genesis over a Super Nintendo at the time -- SNES gamers had to wait an entire year before the franchise would make a return on the console.
(Pro Tip: I will claim to my dying day that Michigan State was the best team in this game. The combination of Tony Banks, Scott Greene and Derrick Mason was unstoppable.)
I strongly considered putting NCAA 98 at the third spot on this list because of its introduction of a multi-year dynasty. Ultimately, the complete lack of defense in human vs. human games nixed that idea, so it was only natural that NCAA Football 99 ascend to this position.
Not only had the defensive gameplay and Dynasty mode in NCAA 98 been refined, but the game included, for the first time, an optional 16-team playoff format. Yes, you heard it right, back in 1998 you were able to select whether you wanted your dynasty to end in a bowl game or in a 16-team playoff. Perhaps the NCAA should be paying attention?
From the polished gameplay to the refined dynasty and introduction of Race for the Heisman mode (aka Road to Glory), NCAA Football 2006 has a special place in the hearts of fans of the series.
Unlike today's somewhat sloppy approach to the career mode, NCAA 06 allowed you to control your player's entire team instead of just an individual player. The result was complete ownership over the team, and the ability to dictate a specific player's involvement rather than relying on a poorly programmed CPU coach. Even better was that after you graduated, your player could become a head coach of a smaller program -- a seamless transition into the game's incredibly deep Dynasty mode.
Simply put, NCAA Football 2004 was the deepest, most addictive football title I have ever played in my life. I dumped hours into the game's College Classics mode, re-creating some of the most unbelievable moments in collge football history, and I played 20-plus seasons of Dynasty mode.
It's hard to put my finger on exactly what made the game so unbelievable, but the word balance often comes to mind. Offense and defense were perfectly tweaked in the game, allowing you to build teams around either side of the ball, and everything from recruiting in Dynasty mode to establishing new rivalries with improving CPU teams made you feel completely immersed in a college football program. Presentation was no slouch in NCAA 04 either, and I will never forget the endless number of Sports Illustrated covers I'd flip through, aspiring to have my team featured every week. Oh, and did I mention NCAA 04 was the first in the series to include online play on PS2?
As a college football fanatic, I feel lucky to have played so many great games to date representing the sport. With NCAA Football 12 shaping up nicely -- I had a ton of fun playing it at E3 -- this year should be another great one for the series.
Did your favorite make the list? Be sure to rank your favorites in the comments below.
Christian McLeod is a senior staff writer here at Operation Sports, and resident NCAA Football master. With him and his wife expecting their first child any day now, Christian is strategically working on a plan to smuggle his Xbox into the hospital as to not miss out on the NCAA 12 demo (Ed. note: Christian had a healthy baby boy! Clearly the kid knew that first impressions are everything.) Make sure to follow him on Twitter @Bumble14_OS, talk to him on our forums via Bumble14, or challenge him on XBL/PSN via Bumble14.