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A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

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Old 02-18-2021, 12:05 AM   #1
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A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

It's been nearly a decade since NCAA 14 released. Little did we know that it would be the last collegiate football game we would see for years to come. The court case with the NCAA, CLC, and EA was not a secret, but it was always assumed that the game wasn't going anywhere. Then EA lost the NCAA brand, then schools started dropping out of the game, and before too long the series was halted altogether.

Now we sit here in 2021. 2020 was probably the worst or one of the worst years in the lives of many, but early in 2021, on National Signing Day, EA gave us college football fans some news that we all needed. They were bringing back their college football game. While they released some initial details about the game, we are still at least a year away from release, so the details we have now could change. An NIL bill will likely pass, EA may get more schools, even potentially all FBS schools, into the game before it releases, they may get real players in the game. There's a lot of fluidity around the series right now, but the main thing is it is coming back.

In those long 7+ years since we last saw an NCAA game EA has continued to release Madden annually. While reading online would give you the impression that Madden was the worst sports game of all time each year, the sales and play stats tend to show it does have some power year after year. Yes, it's the only NFL game in town and likely benefits heavily from that, but the series has seen improvements on and off of the field. It's also seen a lack of improvements in plenty of areas as well.

What I want to explore is what has changed, for better or for worse, with Madden since we last saw an NCAA game. It's likely that whatever changes Madden has seen, and will see before the next college game releases, will find their way into the rebooted CFB series.

The first changes I want to dive into are the defensive changes that Madden has seen. Back in 2013, neither Madden nor NCAA had great defensive play. It never stuck out as bad in NCAA because fans expected a more wide open experience where points were scored more frequently than in the pro game. That said, the defensive play in NCAA 14 really is not that great, especially compared to the progress Madden has made on that side of the ball.

One smaller change that has a larger impact than would be expected is the auto-flip. This change has given the AI more of a fighting chance on defense and it has semi-introduced strong and weak side play to the field. It's not perfect and doesn't represent SAM and WILL players perfectly, but it is a step forward compared to what NCAA 14 had.

This change is important in my opinion because it immediately fixes a large amount of alignment issues that plagued the CPU and were hard to avoid exploiting in NCAA 14. Now you can call a play to the boundary side of the field and not feel cheap getting 15 easy yards simply because the CPU had zero idea of how to align itself once the huddle was broke. It also allows the CPU a chance when the user audibles or flips their play. It was always too easy to simply audible once you saw the CPU alignment and get into a look that easily exploited them. Auto-flip doesn't completely cure this issue, but it's not just a small bandaid, it's a tourniquet for a host of CPU issues. That doesn't mean surgery isn't still needed to fix other issues, it just means the heavy bleeding has ceased.

Of course, all of those mentioned aids also apply to the user as well. Now a player can focus on the play call and have the game automatically align their defense once the huddle is broken. While many here may know more about X's and O's than most, the average player needs that kind of help. Also, there are plenty of times you simply didn't have time to flip your defense and would get caught out of position as guys sprinted across the formation pre-snap and were 10+ yards from their assignment as the ball snapped.

The next change that I personally love and it's one that really hurt NCAA's playability was the addition of new depth chart positions. We always had some things like 3rd Down Back, but now we have Slot WR/CB, Sub LB, etc. This is formation subs on steroids in a way and it's huge because the CPU never actually used formation subs.

I can't count how many times I'd play a team and their #1 WR was a pure slot guy, but the depth chart order dictated he played on the boundary. This has essentially been fixed by EA. Guys that should be in the slot are there now, #1 WR's that play in the slot are there now. DB's that move inside are there now. This change is not just for the user, it has big impact for the CPU as well. Anything that aids CPU roster management is a huge plus in my eyes.

Other defensive changes that I am glad were made are the defensive assignment changes that came in Madden 17. These have been tuned continuously since they debuted, but they are another addition that made it really hard for me to go back to NCAA 14 despite my love for the college game.

We actually have gaps now. We have run fits, we have guys that are actually filling gaps, playing cut back lanes, and we even have two gaps now. All of this stuff was essentially nonexistent in NCAA 14. It's not perfect, but the changes are also huge in my eyes.

Nothing hurt my fun in NCAA more than just seeing the pure chaos that was defense, and I don't mean that as a compliment. You'd see all of your LB's attack one gap and take themselves out of the play, your backside players had zero idea about staying home or at least being a force player, limiting the cutback, etc. The DL just engaged and tried to shed a block regardless of what direction the play was going. The secondary was just there to mop anything up and did not position themselves accounting for the play direction, their teammates, or anything to that matter.

While it's not perfect like I said, the defensive changes still make defense completely different in Madden now than it ever was in NCAA. You can actually watch your guys play the gaps, you see them use actual football logic to fill gaps, to push players certain directions into their teammates, you see an actual reliance on teamwork, whether it is artificial or not. Good defensive players are more consistently in the right place at the right time. Bad defensive players are not, and it's nice to see bad players actually fail in more realistic ways than simply being brain dead like in NCAA. Now my poorly rated LB will not fill the right gap as often, when he does he won't shed the block or at least direct the block into the gap to close it up.

The overhauled defensive AI in Madden 17 is one of the biggest changes in any EA football game and it's one of my favorite changes that have happened since NCAA 14 was released.

I cannot wait to see this change find its way into the next CFB release and be expanded on for the college game. We should expect better AI against the read option plays which will be an immediate improvement. The read option, as we all know, is dramatically overpowered in NCAA 14 because of how scripted the defenders' reactions are to it. If you make the right read you're nearly guaranteed 10+ yards each time unless the defense was aimless blitzing and got lucky to have multiple guys meet the QB and RB in the backfield. Should that not happen, the scripted animations that you read to make your decision are comical and lead to ginormous openings for the ball carrier.

Running the read option in Madden can still be effective, but it's dialed down tremendously thanks to the proper assignment play + the key defender animations are much more grounded and subtle and can even fool you at times now as they are harder to read. Plus, the star defenders are actually able to play it well enough to where they'll blow the play up no matter what you do. We've all seen players in the college game fly into the backfield and make athletic plays where they are able to react and hit the RB or QB quickly and kill the play immediately, or slow it down significantly. That was essentially impossible in NCAA 14 unless the player was user controlled. In Madden that happens with better defenders. This is a change I gladly welcome to CFB.

This is it for post 1. I will be writing more posts in this thread to explore more changes that we've seen that should find their way into the next CFB release. I simply don't want to write an even longer post than I already have, and I'd like to see some potential discussion around these changes talked about so far. Plus, you all can point out some changes I simply won't think of and then I can potentially expand on them some more.

Some other changes I will be writing about in a future post are:

Actual RPO's
The revamped route running we see in next gen
The revamped locomotion we see in next gen
Next Gen stats in next gen Madden and their potential impact on the CFB game
The revamped passing trajectories
The 3-type catching system
The penalty overhauls
Off-ball injuries
The removal of game speed settings

Again, if you've somehow made your way through one of my longer posts, pat yourself on the back. I know this forum isn't the most alive as it's not football season and the game is not releasing until next year at the absolute earliest, but hopefully we can get some more discussion going. I know there are others out there like me who could live and breathe college football all year round and are as hyped today as they were when EA made that iconic tweet.
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Old 02-18-2021, 12:39 AM   #2
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Re: A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

Pattern matching on the defensive side is the absolute best thing to happen to football video games imo. I really wish every aspect of the game would take strides to being this realistic. Itís not perfect, blue zones are still a complete mystery as to what they are doing and hook zones arenít very aggressive, but itís so much fun to see when it all comes together.

I wish that EA would step away from being so focused on Ultimate Team and utilize resources to really break down these aspects and explain their functionality. I remember 2K5 having a guide that broke down nearly every type of blocking and coverage that was in the game. It was a great teaching tool for young football minds like myself. If they could bring that same logic to the offensive line and their blocking, weíd be on our way to the greatest football game weíve ever experienced.
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Old 02-18-2021, 11:35 AM   #3
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Re: A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

The Trench War!!

In NCAA 14, OL had literally zero animations compared to DLinemen. They had the invisible wall and then the "patty cake" animation between an OL and a DL. So, if you were editing rosters, you did so in a way that would allow for more DL animations to make it "appear" that there was some variety. It made that part of the game very stale; and it also didn't matter who you put at OL, they would play the exact same. I think EA has done a better job since then at making what happens in the trenches better. Hopefully they will continue so that by the time the college game comes out, it'll matter who you recruit on the OL and DL.

With what you were saying about how overpowered the Read Option was...another thing that was way off was the fact that the QB would have the majority of the carries. In games you would have the QB with 20 carries and the #1 back with 7. A lot of that had to do with how the Read Option was scripted like you said...but also Tendencies. The only way you could tone it down was to pretty much edit every QB who was a Scrambler and change them to Balanced. But that caused issues in other areas such as QB's actually scrambling on broken plays or running the Triple Option or Wishbone attack. I think maybe a separate attribute should be added in addition to Tendency for QB's to help with that...call it "Read option Awareness" or something lol...I don't know. I know that the Read Option and RPO game is apart of the NFL now...but still not as much as the college game. It needs to be on point.
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Old 02-18-2021, 12:07 PM   #4
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Re: A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

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Originally Posted by TarHeelPhenom
The Trench War!!



In NCAA 14, OL had literally zero animations compared to DLinemen. They had the invisible wall and then the "patty cake" animation between an OL and a DL. So, if you were editing rosters, you did so in a way that would allow for more DL animations to make it "appear" that there was some variety. It made that part of the game very stale; and it also didn't matter who you put at OL, they would play the exact same. I think EA has done a better job since then at making what happens in the trenches better. Hopefully they will continue so that by the time the college game comes out, it'll matter who you recruit on the OL and DL.



With what you were saying about how overpowered the Read Option was...another thing that was way off was the fact that the QB would have the majority of the carries. In games you would have the QB with 20 carries and the #1 back with 7. A lot of that had to do with how the Read Option was scripted like you said...but also Tendencies. The only way you could tone it down was to pretty much edit every QB who was a Scrambler and change them to Balanced. But that caused issues in other areas such as QB's actually scrambling on broken plays or running the Triple Option or Wishbone attack. I think maybe a separate attribute should be added in addition to Tendency for QB's to help with that...call it "Read option Awareness" or something lol...I don't know. I know that the Read Option and RPO game is apart of the NFL now...but still not as much as the college game. It needs to be on point.
Ah, yes. The QBs with the Scrambler tendency were a mess in NCAA 14. In our online dynasty we would edit the next opponents QBs to all be balanced and edit them back to what they originally were after the game was played.

All scrambling seemed to mean was that they would run into their RT and give you 8 free sacks per game.

I think QB play has improved quite a bit in Madden. It's still far from perfect, but at least in 21 the QBs move in the pocket, actually move around and run while still being able to pass. That's a big change. Remember, in NCAA 14, when a QB tucks it and leaves the pocket, they are unable to pass the ball. In Madden the CPU QB is always a threat to pass the ball when moving/running around.

CPU QBs in Madden 21 also run much smarter, they don't strictly run to their dominant hand side like in NCAA. Even the slower QBs who would never run in NCAA 14 are a threat to take off if given the opportunity in Madden 21.

Of course, like I said, CPU QB play isn't perfect. There is the issue where QBs continuously drift back until sacked. Though, I've read this is fixed on next gen. The issue seems to stem from the playcalling. I've noticed it mainly happens on plays like Curl Flats where each target finishes their route pretty quickly and even if they're covered they stay stationary and don't try to get open. This causes the QB to freak out and just drift back waiting for someone to get open.

I would like to see EA improve the WR play and have them move much more quickly once they finish their route. In real life, a guy one curl isn't going to stand still when he turns around. He expects the ball to be on the way as he turns and if it isn't, he'll run around to find space if the QB still has the ball.

OL and DL play has definitely improved. Not only has the logic been improved on, but the variety of animations is night and day. Madden is still far from perfect and I think the OL still performs too well, but the amount of animation variety at the line of scrimmage is a major plus for Madden when comparing the two games. Look, EA games are "scripted" and are very animation based. Since I know that is the case and will remain the case until EA completely changes the foundation of the game, I'll gladly take the Madden animations we have now over what NCAA 14 had.

Pocket formation and collapse is done much better. Zone blocking is infinitely better. Both games have running games that are a bit too easy, NCAA's issue was the OL always got a lot of push whenever they "won". Madden's issue is that on certain plays the OL holds their blocks too well allowing backs to get to the 2nd level untouched too easily. However, at least with Madden's new defensive AI I touched on in my initial post, that combined with slider changes can bring the running game down to more realistic levels.

The only way to really fix the NCAA running game is to completely neuter the user RBs bu making RBA have such a low value every back you use is stuck in mud and you can never have any explosive plays as a result.

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Old 02-18-2021, 12:49 PM   #5
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Re: A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

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Originally Posted by canes21
Ah, yes. The QBs with the Scrambler tendency were a mess in NCAA 14. In our online dynasty we would edit the next opponents QBs to all be balanced and edit them back to what they originally were after the game was played.

All scrambling seemed to mean was that they would run into their RT and give you 8 free sacks per game.

I think QB play has improved quite a bit in Madden. It's still far from perfect, but at least in 21 the QBs move in the pocket, actually move around and run while still being able to pass. That's a big change. Remember, in NCAA 14, when a QB tucks it and leaves the pocket, they are unable to pass the ball. In Madden the CPU QB is always a threat to pass the ball when moving/running around.

CPU QBs in Madden 21 also run much smarter, they don't strictly run to their dominant hand side like in NCAA. Even the slower QBs who would never run in NCAA 14 are a threat to take off if given the opportunity in Madden 21.

Of course, like I said, CPU QB play isn't perfect. There is the issue where QBs continuously drift back until sacked. Though, I've read this is fixed on next gen. The issue seems to stem from the playcalling. I've noticed it mainly happens on plays like Curl Flats where each target finishes their route pretty quickly and even if they're covered they stay stationary and don't try to get open. This causes the QB to freak out and just drift back waiting for someone to get open.

I would like to see EA improve the WR play and have them move much more quickly once they finish their route. In real life, a guy one curl isn't going to stand still when he turns around. He expects the ball to be on the way as he turns and if it isn't, he'll run around to find space if the QB still has the ball.

OL and DL play has definitely improved. Not only has the logic been improved on, but the variety of animations is night and day. Madden is still far from perfect and I think the OL still performs too well, but the amount of animation variety at the line of scrimmage is a major plus for Madden when comparing the two games. Look, EA games are "scripted" and are very animation based. Since I know that is the case and will remain the case until EA completely changes the foundation of the game, I'll gladly take the Madden animations we have now over what NCAA 14 had.

Pocket formation and collapse is done much better. Zone blocking is infinitely better. Both games have running games that are a bit too easy, NCAA's issue was the OL always got a lot of push whenever they "won". Madden's issue is that on certain plays the OL holds their blocks too well allowing backs to get to the 2nd level untouched too easily. However, at least with Madden's new defensive AI I touched on in my initial post, that combined with slider changes can bring the running game down to more realistic levels.

The only way to really fix the NCAA running game is to completely neuter the user RBs bu making RBA have such a low value every back you use is stuck in mud and you can never have any explosive plays as a result.

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I know a lot of people either don't like Superstar X Factor or think it's too OP, but I actually love it and hope they add something like that in the college game. Imagine having to deal with a Chase Young type dude coming off the end. If you don't double it's going to be a long day. With being able to Double Team pre-snap and the ID the Mike features, that can help neutralize STUDS and blitzers at times. With those being staples in Madden now, there is no reason why they shouldn't make it into the college game.
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Old 02-18-2021, 02:33 PM   #6
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Re: A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

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Originally Posted by TarHeelPhenom
I know a lot of people either don't like Superstar X Factor or think it's too OP, but I actually love it and hope they add something like that in the college game. Imagine having to deal with a Chase Young type dude coming off the end. If you don't double it's going to be a long day. With being able to Double Team pre-snap and the ID the Mike features, that can help neutralize STUDS and blitzers at times. With those being staples in Madden now, there is no reason why they shouldn't make it into the college game.
I fully expect them to come over to the college game, but I also hope the option to disable them comes along. I personally turn the abilities off because there are a number of them I find way too "gamey". Thankfully Madden in the last 2 or 3 releases has really made rating differences stand out more than I ever remember in the series, so the stars still play like stars.

The way they have the rating differentials now and how they actually show up in the game has me more excited for the college game. NCAA 14 suffered from a 70 overall team not feeling a whole lot worse than a 95 overall team. Outside of speed and a couple of other ratings, most players and teams felt very identical. That was a huge issue for Madden and NCAA for years. It was a big problem for Madden until Madden 19 or 20. Now it's been helped quite a bit and I love the thought of this being felt in the college game where team skill levels vary significant more than in the NFL.

If it carries over properly, it should actually feel like a fight when you're an underdog. The game should feel distinctly different when you're playing a cupcake versus your top 10 ranked rival.

There are a lot of little additions over the years that have made Madden an experience for me that makes it hard to return to NCAA. It wasn't until Madden 19 that I first began struggling to stick with NCAA, but the changes Madden has seen over the years has me at a point where NCAA is good for a play now game here or there, but honestly, if I want the college experience I just either fire up Madden 20 with the CFB mod or I play with the D105Lite rosters, or I just hop into Face of the Franchise.

Those 3 options give me a much better taste of college football and are probably very good demos of what to expect when this game releases.

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Old 02-18-2021, 04:18 PM   #7
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Re: A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

First of all, excellent and well thought out post. It’s one of the best ones I’ve read during my time here.

Secondly, I don’t have a ton of value to add past the points you’ve touched on in your initial post. You’re spot on.

The talent disparity in College compared to the Pros is huge. Sure, in top 10-15 programs it’s close, but the difference between an Alabama and a FIU is immense. It would be nice to close the gap between good teams, but still expect blowouts in other matchups.

College football is great for individual performances; days of 200 yard rushers and dominant offensive performances. But there needs to be balance. Rushing for 200 against UTEP shouldn’t mean doing the same against Clemson.

In 2014, regardless of which team you start with (or difficulty), your team becomes untouchable after a few recruiting cycles. It would be nice to introduce down recruiting years so each year in franchise is difficult. I play 2014 religiously to this day, and every few years in to a franchise, I’m having to restart because there is no competition. Just the other day in year 3 of my UCF franchise, I beat SMU 101-13...... Granted I wanted to see if I could score 100, but that’s not fun.

Finding that balance in a video game is hard and I don’t know if EA is the company to do it. But I’m not going to sit here and gripe. I’m excited that College football is back, and ultimately I’ll play it non stop regardless.


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Old 02-18-2021, 05:15 PM   #8
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Re: A look at what has changed with EA football since NCAA 14's release.

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First of all, excellent and well thought out post. Itís one of the best ones Iíve read during my time here.

Secondly, I donít have a ton of value to add past the points youíve touched on in your initial post. Youíre spot on.

The talent disparity in College compared to the Pros is huge. Sure, in top 10-15 programs itís close, but the difference between an Alabama and a FIU is immense. It would be nice to close the gap between good teams, but still expect blowouts in other matchups.

College football is great for individual performances; days of 200 yard rushers and dominant offensive performances. But there needs to be balance. Rushing for 200 against UTEP shouldnít mean doing the same against Clemson.

In 2014, regardless of which team you start with (or difficulty), your team becomes untouchable after a few recruiting cycles. It would be nice to introduce down recruiting years so each year in franchise is difficult. I play 2014 religiously to this day, and every few years in to a franchise, Iím having to restart because there is no competition. Just the other day in year 3 of my UCF franchise, I beat SMU 101-13...... Granted I wanted to see if I could score 100, but thatís not fun.

Finding that balance in a video game is hard and I donít know if EA is the company to do it. But Iím not going to sit here and gripe. Iím excited that College football is back, and ultimately Iíll play it non stop regardless.


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I have some hope that dynasty will feel more rewarding. My last post replying to TarHeel touched on how Madden has made ratings matter more in recent years, especially compared to NCAA 14 and I think that's going to pay dividends for the CFB gameplay if the ratings impact on the field is at least as good as it is in Madden now.

My ultimate wish is they'd stretch the ratings out more in CFB than they had them in NCAA and they continue to make rating differences felt more and more, and not just with an abilities system. I think the player differences are becoming more of a pronounced thing with Madden. The new route running, different player movement styles, different animations based on ratings, etc. all has had a positive impact on the players feeling more and more different than before and it has led to good players feeling significantly better than bad players.

I don't even have to play a modded version of 20 to get the type of gameplay I seek anymore. So far, Madden 21 has delivered that with slider tweaks. I can feel the differences in player ratings, types, and whatnot.

For example, I've been messing around with some 2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, and current day rosters in Madden 21, playing a game or two each night of whatever matchup I feel.

When I play something like the 05 Washington vs the 05 Bucs, I get some real low scoring games that just feel early 2000s. Inconsistent QB play, pro-style offenses that lean on the ground, but the two defenses featured were the strengths of their teams. When I played this matchup the other night, I was Washington and I lost 6-3. I'd never get a low scoring affair like that in past EA games without making it feel cheap.

Nothing felt cheap with this. I saw good DB play against mediocre WR units, some solid front 7s really plugging the gaps and making it hard for either team to run the ball, and two QBs who were streaky at best. It was a fun game, one that I loved playing. It brought back some good feelings of 2000s football.

Then I fast forward to the 09 Patriots and that ridiculous offense. I forgot now who it was that I played against, but compared to the 05 game, offense felt significantly easier as it should when I'm using Brady and throwing to Moss, Welker, and co. After losing a game 6-3, using this offense I put up 35 points and it felt right because that offense from a talent perspective was just absolutely insane. The defense wasn't too bad either. I easily see how that team went undefeated. That offense was so fun I almost thought about playing a season with them to see if I could put up stats as good as the real team did.

Then just last night, modern day Bucs vs Falcons. I wanted to use old Brady. This game had a nice mixture of play. The Bucs defense shut the run down for the most part, I had some success running it late in the game, and Brady was fun to use, but I only won 21-14. I turned the ball over 3 times. One pick was completely my fault, another was tipped at the line and then caught, that's just bad luck, the other pick I waited too long, got hit and threw a duck into traffic that the defense came down with.

It all felt organic. The wounded duck and tip plays both had me in the instant replaying watching them over and over because they looked like real football plays and I wasn't even mad to turn the ball over.

And lastly, I played modern day Bills vs Packers. I was the Packers. This was a weird game. Both offenses came out on fire and we had a 28-28 game at the half. I then went on to win 38-35 as both defenses came out on fire in the second half. I don't think there was a single turnover this game either until the last possession on a 4th down prayer attempt by Allen.

All in all, the way Madden plays now gives me plenty of hope that CFB will play so much better and player ratings will matter more than ever before making dynasty mode an actual grind if the rest of the mode like recruiting is done right.

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