NCAA Football 2003 Review (Xbox)
It is a testament to the quality of NCAA Football 2003, that I could list numerous things that I don’t like about the game, yet I thoroughly enjoy playing it. You only notice some of the things that aren’t quite right, because of the time you put into the game. EA nailed the atmosphere and the excitement of college football, the produced a great looking and great sounding game but left a little to be desired in control and AI.
The overall “feel” of the college game is so well captured and absorbing in NCAA Football 2003 that the few flaws in the game often appear more glaring than they really are. While it may not be perfect, NCAA Football 2003 stands up very well to any football game, college or pro, that’s ever been released.
EA gets a lot of criticism for not changing much in their games from year to year and some of this criticism is well deserved. It’s only fair to point out when they make positive changes. The biggest improvement in this year’s game, is in the running game. No longer will you see a gaping hole for your back to go through, only to watch in dismay as he is knocked down by a fingertip tackle. What was even worse, is when his shoulder pads were too wide for the hole and you would get stuck between your own lineman. This later problem was dubbed “Mario Running” or basically your running back, running in place because he was stuck in the line. Two things have changed; you will rarely get stuck going through an obvious hole and the momentum of your runner will not be stopped by a fingertip tackle. In instances where you might have been stopped right at then line you can pound on the speed burst button and pick up a couple of yards, on occasion you will break a tackle and turn a 2 yard gain into 6-8, it is very rewarding. This doesn’t mean that holes won’t close quick because they do at times, but it feels right. You can replay the play and see that the defensive lineman beat the offensive lineman or the linebacker read the play and filled the gap. The juke button (R can come in handy as well but your timing has to be good, I end up getting de-cleated many times when I juke.
Running has been dramatically improved. “Mario Running” has been minimized in the vast majority of circumstances, and it’s a welcome improvement.
Backs and receivers will try to slither for that extra yard, or at least fall forward, on their way to the turf. Again, momentum, rebound and mass all play a large factor in the way this will actually happen on a carry. It all seems quite realistic, and lends itself to smart offensive play, as wily runners will attempt to avoid head-on collisions, and instead angle towards glancing blows, gaining an extra yard or two in the process.
The overall experience is very satisfying.
Another thing they fixed are play action plays, They actually work! Unfortunately the almost work too well, I seem to complete a very high percentage of my passes on play action, usually in the 6-10 yard range. This sure beats getting sacked nearly every time you try a play action play. This also adds to the fun of play calling, you feel that you are setting up the defense by mixing in some play action.
Play action works infinitely better in this year’s iteration. It can work quite well against both human and CPU opponents if it’s set up properly.
Nevertheless, it works much better, and it adds yet another dimension to NCAA Football 2003’s impressive offensive depth.
This is true, when I have gotten sacked it is usually on the blitz, with the QB caught up in the Play action fake and animation, you just don’t have time to get out of the way.
Quarterback play is slightly improved it’s a little hard to compare to last years version since I have the X-box version this year. One of the things that will take some getting used to is the default camera angle, it draws back pretty far on passing plays. So even though you can see the passing plays develop really well on some plays your receivers seem so small and far away that it is hard to judge whether or not they have some space on the defender or are well covered. I have adjusted though and don’t really think about it on offense anymore.
I own the XBox version as well, and I agree that the new camera angle takes some getting used to. It took me a few games, but now, I’m accustomed to it, and I actually prefer it to last year’s version.
The new camera angle is noticeably wider, giving passers a better view of the entire field as the play unfolds. An adept quarterback can use this new camera angle to their advantage, and pick apart a defensive backfield – assuming the offensive line can hold off the rush long enough.
The touch on passes also took a little getting used to and I still manage to loft a pass when I really wanted to zip it. The A,X,B,L,R buttons represent your receivers and the Y buttons is used to pull down the pass icons so that the QB can run and use the default running controls. I like this aspect a lot.
Thankfully, I haven’t had the same issues.
As a matter of fact, I find the “touch” to be quite natural feeling, and it’s a very important factor in completing passes consistently.
Ball-hawking safeties will make quick work of passes that float over the middle of the field, so knowing when to rifle it to your receiver is essential. As a counterpoint, a light touch is necessary when attempting to complete that fly pattern down the sidelines, and a rocket-armed throw will only result in an incompletion – at best.
Learning how to use “touch” effectively can be sometimes difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating – but in the end, it’s worth it.
Reading the plays as a QB is pretty good, you see all of the field on the default view and can usually pick up if the “D” is in a zone or man. I have had problems when I think a DB is in man and will follow one receiver, but it turns out he is in a zone and just waiting for me to hit my receiver on a comeback route. This is actually pretty cool, because you get a feel for the decision making process that a real QB must go through and that it all happens pretty quick. Literally once the ball leaves your hands you realize that you have read the play wrong and are in trouble.
The defense will make you pay dearly for misreading a backfield. Follow your receiver progressions quickly, and get rid of the ball before you find a helmet in your quarterback’s numbers.
Keep in mind that a quarterback throws much more accurately when his feet are planted. If you must scramble, try to stop and plant before you throw the ball. The turnover you save may be your own.
However, if neither of those techniques are getting the job done, you can also help even the odds with the “pump fake”. Using the right analog stick (on the XBox), you can pump fake, and draw safeties or cornerbacks away from your receivers.
It requires extra time in the pocket, so nerves of steel are sometimes in order as you sidestep the pass rush to buy yourself more time. The pump fake is remarkably effective on “hitch-and-go” routes. Just as the receiver makes his cut, throw a pump fake at the cornerback. Oftentimes, he’ll freeze, and your receiver will get the downfield separation necessary to complete the long bomb.
I am not as thrilled about the gameplay on the defensive side of the ball. I want to feel like I am the guy making most of the plays and I just don’t get that feeling with this game. It seems like play calling is at least 75 % of your success on D. For instance, I just got done playing a game where I had 4 interceptions, but they all were a result of my guy being positioned properly and not me switching to him and hitting the catch (Y) button. I have played 30+ games on All-American with 8-minute quarters and on two plays I got an interception and a little message popped up that said “USER PICK”. I mentioned this on our forums and very few guys had seen it. What it means is that you actually controlled the guy who made the interception by hitting “Y” at the right time.
The style of play on defense does not thrill me, but for people who like to play as just one player and stick to that and accept that they may not be involved in a lot of plays then they will really enjoy defense in NCAA2003. It’s sort of like being a role player and accepting your role. One excellent addition they made on the defensive side of the ball, is to be able to see the assignments of your defensive players once you have called a play. As you line up on D, hit the black button and an overlay appears on the screen that shows the zone each player is responsible for and if you are in man coverage, a line will show you which guy is the defensive players responsibility. Finally, I understand exactly what each play means and this has helped my defense improve, it also helps those who want to play as one position to understand their role on that play.
Playing defense is a completely different animal in NCAA Football 2003. While playing offense is all about making things happen, defense is about letting the play come to you – as forcing the issue will often result in 6 points for the opposition. Effective play calling is the major factor in whether you fail or succeed on “D”. If you want to control the action, your best choice is to play as a linebacker or lineman and try to disrupt the play with a well-timed blitz.
However, patience is a virtue that pays off in spades in NCAA.
The “dive” button is definitely not the “tackle” button, and those who use it only as a last resort will find themselves in much better shape than those that dive desperately at anyone with the ball. The CPU will bury you if you dive and miss, therefore, positioning and holding your defensive zone is crucial for consistent defensive performance.
I have had a lot of trouble stopping the option, mostly because I haven’t played too many teams that run it a lot. It’s especially difficult to deal with when your opponent only runs it a handful of times in a game. EA has added something called a strafe button, this allows you to move horizontally or parallel to the line of scrimmage, particularly useful when playing as a linebacker. I have not had a lot of success with it, mostly cause the plays happen so fast that I decide to late which player to control and strafe with. I have heard rumors it is effective against the option.
The “strafe” is especially effective against the option, or against scrambling quarterbacks. Again, patience is key. It’s best to select a linebacker, and hold your position until you’ve sniffed out the play. Use the strafe to move laterally, “marking” the quarterback, but don’t make a forward move until the quarterback does. That way, you won’t be fooled be a fake pitch, and your teammates will pursue the running back, rendering the option ineffective. It’s very challenging, but the “strafe” is a tremendous addition to the game, adding both strategy and realism to defensive play.
Defending the pass is where the lack of control affects the game the most. They have added a swat button, but for the life of me I can’t seem to get it to work very often, or at all. I think it is because you need to hit it well in advance of the pass arriving at the receiver. Usually by the time you pick up the ball and hit the swat button, it’s too late. I have resorted to using the catch button only or relying on my CPU controlled players to do the swatting. Switching to the defensive back is a risky business, in most cases you are not sure which player you will switch to and end up guiding your player in the wrong direction. Or sometimes you lose a step when you switch and that can be the difference between a 10-yard gain or a 70-yard TD pass. I understand that part of my problems here is my lack of ability but it should be easier to control your DB’s and more rewarding when you get a pick.
This may be the most difficult part of defensive play, due to the complete lack of any margin for error.
The “User Pick” message is a nice reward for your efforts – and an easy way to gently point out your superior defensive acumen to your flustered human opponent…
Rushing the passer can also be frustrating, but it is actually fairly realistic. Gone are the days where you can move your end out a few feet and speed rush every play. You can use a swim move or spin move or speed burst but rarely will these moves get you around the offensive lineman. The amount of sacks are fairly accurate but it is the lack of pressure or success at putting moves on a O-Lineman that are frustrating. You get stonewalled a lot and the QB gets rid of the ball so quick on most plays that you don’t put a whole lot of pressure on the QB. Yet I prefer this alternative to the old days of being able to pressure the QB on almost every play. Hey, EA – Throw me a bone, give me a little something for the effort.
Defensive line play is realistic, but can be extremely frustrating until the nuances of the rush become second nature.
While a superior defensive lineman can completely manhandle a pedestrian tackle, center or guard, those fortuitous match-ups are few and far between. More than likely, the average defensive lineman will be stuffed by the “O-line” without some help. Using the “line audible” will help alleviate this under certain circumstances, but if you want to put big-time pressure on that quarterback, you’ll have to do what real defensive coordinators do – blitz.
If and when you get through the blockers, don’t always go for the sack. If you’re in front of the quarterback, consider leaping up to block the pass. It works quite often, and you don’t run the risk of diving at the quarterback and missing him – giving him time to find an open receiver.
Tackling is well done and you rely more on positioning and taking the right angles than hitting the dive button, since it is not really a tackle button in the traditional sense, but in this way it is similar to last years game. Watch out for the CPU spin move, it is nasty and I have been burned by it many times. The tackles I miss are usually my fault or due to the momentum or size of the players involved so it is very fair in this respect.
The flip side of the running techniques I discussed earlier, the key to tackling is to hit your opponent square, stopping him in his tracks.
Be quick, but don’t rush things too much. Line your man up, hit him clean, and you’ll make the fundamentally sound tackle.
If you have the ball carrier held up in a pile, you can try the “strip ball” command – but be aware - that player will not be particularly helpful in tackling for a moment or two, so be sure the ball carrier can’t get away before you try it.
Remember, momentum is well represented in NCAA Football 2003, so be sure not to simply hit the ball carrier with a glancing blow – you may end up watching him shake you off, and keep going for even more yards.
There’s nothing more frustrating than watching the opposing ball carrier break multiple tackles and “take it to the barn”, as NCAA Football announcer Brad Nessler says – so stand him up, and put him down!
The kicking game uses a pretty standard 3 click meter and arrow for direction, it is fairly challenging to kick longer field goals, due in part to the wide hash marks in college ball and the quality of the kicker you are using. While punting it is a little too easy to get a fair catch from the CPU and using the punt block coverage is about the only way to get a decent return. It is also fairly easy to cover kickoffs if you kick to the corners of the field the CPU always seems to be setup or return middle. I can usually stop the CPU inside the 20 this way.
AI and PLAYCALLING
Catch up AI, cheap AI or even cheating AI; does it exist? I honestly don’t know and I will say that the AI has kept me on my toes on the All-American level. In my idealized world I think that the CPU should call a play based on the down and distance, time, game situation and my play calling tendencies. There are times in this game that you feel like the CPU knows what play you called as you approach the line. On the flipside, the CPU’s mind reading ability has not stopped me from moving the ball successfully, execution and ability are still more important than formations.
I agree entirely. The CPU plays a good game, by and large, and doesn’t seem to be “cheating” on most occasions. There are times (especially on audibles) where the CPU seems to know exactly what you called, and moves to defend it. It does know, of course – but it would be nice if the AI disguised it better from time to time.
Player ratings (and awareness in particular) seem to be the defining factor in whether or not you can fool the defenders. Cornerbacks with poor awareness or agility can be taken advantage of with the pump fake, for example.
As Jim mentioned above: Proper execution of your plays is the key to your success or failure.
Offensively, there are still plays that work more often than not. The off – tackle run with I Formation twins will usually get you 6 – 12 yards. Various passing plays in which your top receivers start on a slant in and then cut to the outside on an angle are highly successful, especially if your wide receiver or QB have any real talent. If you try to abuse these plays the CPU will adjust, but if you mix them in to a normal play calling scheme they can be quite successful. If your team is just flat our more talented than the CPU team you can pretty much do whatever you want. Just sending your receivers deep if they are faster and stronger then the DB’s is extremely effective. I am not saying any of this is bad, but it puts the game player into a dilemma. Do you over use these plays with high success rates or do you give the AI a break and try to run other plays that may be tougher to complete? Obviously if you are Florida playing Utah State, you should probably have your way with them, it’s when you are Florida against Miami that the easy plays present a problem.
There are a few plays that generally work better than others with regularity, and I agree that off-tackle runs and out patterns are most effective.
That said, if they’re used almost every play, the CPU will start to expect it and either stuff your running back or pick off your quarterback and take it in for six.
I’ve experimented with the sliders to see if I can cut down the high success rate, and have seen some improvement. If it’s too easy for you, perhaps adjusting the sliders will give you the “feel” you prefer in the game.
Running inside is effective, even with an average team. The CPU will begin to bring their linebackers in and sometimes bunch up the defensive lineman if you are running inside a lot. Yet I still manage to have success running inside, it is a matter of reading the D and picking up where the hole probably will be and hitting the hole with power and speed. My success has a lot to do with the quality of the team and the opponent. I have almost no success running outside and gave up even calling those plays. Where the CPU AI gets kind of wacky is when you come to the line in a formation you rarely run out of and in a situation that you would more than likely pass, yet the CPU lines up in a run defense even shifting players to where you called your play. At first this really annoyed me, but I still had success and it doesn’t happen all the time but just enough to be bothersome.
Hitting the holes is more complicated than smashing the “speed burst” button and pushing up on the stick. Patience pays off here. Run at normal speed towards the line, and pay attention to where the hole is going to form. If you have a fast halfback, hit the “speed burst”, and get through that hole quickly. If you have a big, bruising back, hit the hole at normal speed, and be ready to tap the “shoulder charge”. The unfortunate safety flying in to stop you will likely become a speed bump on your way down the field. Judicious use of the “speed burst” will help in general, as your ability to sharply cut increases dramatically at lower speeds. Save the burst for the open field – you’ll be more effective, and your running back will be less fatigued as the game goes on.
As I mentioned before passing to the outside is very effective and there really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot the CPU can do about it(except to suddenly have your receivers start dropping the ball) if your players are talented and your timing is down. Passing over the middle is a different story altogether. The slants or crossing patterns are tough to pull off, since there always seems to be a linebacker falling back into a zone or a safety standing between you and the QB. If your timing is right, you can pull it off, but I have been burned enough times that I tend to shy away from going over the middle much. If I do, it is usually on Play action or to a good size tight end, who can use his body as a shield and the good ones seem to do that.
One last word on the out patterns: Despite the fact that they’re quite effective, if your timing is off, or if you lob the pass, the defense can (and will) exploit it. When they do, it’s usually a pick, and then the corner high-steps his way to the end zone with ease. Passing over the middle is much more difficult. It’s tempting to whip the ball to the receiver as quickly as possible, but be wary of the linebacker floating just behind the line. If you don’t notice him, you will – after he’s picked you off.
This is where the analog “touch” is valuable, as well as expert timing. Big tight ends are the best choice for these routes. They’re usually taller and much heavier than receivers, and have the ability to hold on to the ball much better than a rail-thin wideout after they’ve been clobbered by a linebacker. It’s more difficult, but if you can pass over the middle with success, your outside receiver routes and screen passes will be that much more effective.
The CPU definitely favors guarding against your tendencies – so open up your playbook, give them more than a few plays to guard against, and watch your offense control the flow of the game.
The curl in patterns are a lot of fun to pull off, your receiver will go out about 10 yards and then turn around if you time it just right you will hit him just as he turns around, this really gives me the feeling of being a QB. Unfortunately, this play can also result into a fair amount of interceptions. It is also one of the areas where I question the CPU’s AI, I have times where the DB will break on the ball like he knew it was coming and my receiver who knows what route to run, will run away from the ball. I have also seen instances of the DB having the ability to make up 7 yards or so in no time at all. Very frustrating, but hey it is a game and overall the AI keeps the game fun and challenging, which is ultimately what I am looking for in a game.
I haven’t had any issues with the CPU cheating on the curl routes. However, this pass requires the hardest throw your quarterback can muster for consistent success – anything less, and you’re asking for trouble.
You can’t scramble and expect to pull these off. Take a quick drop, plant your feet, and rifle it in there. Your receiver will probably get tackled immediately after the catch, but you just got your first down!
Don’t overuse this play – the defense will sniff it out after a bit, and move the safeties and corners into “bump-and-run” coverage – throwing off your timing, and making the pass nearly impossible to complete.
To be fair, I haven’t seen the super DB’s all that often but when it happens it is extremely frustrating.
One glaring issue for me is the CPU’s decision making process on 4th downs, specifically on 4th downs between the opponents 20 and 35 yardline, they will almost always go for it instead of kicking the field goal. The first time I saw this I thought it was pretty cool because the CPU was just outside my 30 and the field goal would have been a long one and punting from that area probably isn’t going to net you much field position. Nothing more annoying than watching a team punt from the 35 and boom it into the endzone and have the ball put back on the 20. Now after 20 plus games I have only seen the CPU attempt a field goal longer than 40 yards twice, that’s just crazy. Fortunately the CPU doesn’t seem to convert many of their 4th down attempts, but it adds a level of frustration to stopping the CPU that I could have done without.
I completely agree. It’s an interesting choice, and perhaps even understandable given 4th and short, or in desperate situations; but going for it in a tie game on a 4th and 13 inside their opponents’ 35?
In the first quarter?
If that happens in a real college football game this year, I’ll eat my hat – and laugh heartily when I watch that coach get deservedly fired on the spot.
I can tell what EA was trying to do here – but they overcompensated, and it’s very, very annoying. What does it mean to you? Three things: you’ll either be unable to use the field goal defense in places where you definitely should; you’ll be wasting a lot of time outs to get the right defense on the field after you called the field goal defense, or you’ll be hoping that your punt returner is capable of covering multiple receivers simultaneously. This is the biggest AI gaffe in the game, and probably my biggest complaint with NCAA Football 2003 as a whole.
One major improvement in the CPU’s offensive AI is that it doesn’t pull off 1st downs in so many 3rd and long situations. This improvement is due in part to the fact that the CPU doesn’t put themselves in as many 3rd and long situations, which makes the game so much more realistic. There are still times that the CPU, pulls plays out of it’s butt to convert on 3rd and long, but the frequency is within the realm of possibility, how they do it isn’t always realistic but I can live with it. I had a play where my DB tipped the ball, it proceeded to hit the receiver in the back of the head, he did a complete 360 all the while the ball was rolling around on his back and shoulder pads, then eventually the ball dropped magically into his hands. I was wondering if that was one of the many new animations added to this game.
I think the increase in CPU offensive balance has helped. Teams with good running game call the halfback’s number a lot – and that’s a good thing.
NCAA Football used to be all about the pass from the CPU. It seemed that the “Nickel” and “Dime” defensive packages were the only ones worth using. Now that the CPU will run, they find themselves in many less 3rd and long situations.
Balls do bounce all over the place on tips, but it seems like the defense will get the pick at least as often as the offense will come up with it, so in my mind – that’s another entertaining improvement.
Clock management is superb, I have only seen one situation where the CPU seemed to go into a hurry up a little earlier than I would have expected. They use their time outs effectively and execute the hurry up offense just like Joe Montana in his day.
Agreed. CPU clock management is quite good, and it greatly improves the overall “feel” of the game. A much-needed improvement by EA that deserves almost as much credit as the 4th down problem deserves derision.
Another odd thing I have noticed is the total lack of pass interference calls, on either me or the CPU, haven’t played any two player games so I don’t know if it is an issue there. Of course there are sliders for the penalties and overall I haven’t had a real problem with them, it does seem like bad teams get more holding and clipping calls against them, but that is realistic. The timing of the calls can be painful at times, but for me it hasn’t been a major issue.
I’ve noticed the same thing. Penalties (on the default slider settings) seem quite accurate, with the exception of pass interference calls. I’ve often felt like the CPU obstructed my receiver, and I’ve very rarely gotten the call. Of course, I haven’t had many called on me, either – and I’ve deserved more than a few.
Judging by the way the rest of the penalties are called at a relatively accurate rate, I think this may have been a design decision to allow for more forgiving play between humans. Regardless, when the sliders for pass interference are increased, the calls do too – so if it bothers you – there is a workaround.
On offense the CPU still seems to favor the pass, even when they are running the ball effectively the CPU will still pass quite a bit more than it will run. They also tend to pass even when they should be running out the clock, sometimes I think this may be because I am stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
That may be so. I agree that the computer tends to pass more, but I’ve been charting it for this review, and the CPU seems to pass about 60% of the time. That’s not too bad in my book, although it’s probably closer to 60% run plays in real college football. If you’re winning, however, expect the CPU to go to the air the vast majority of time as they try to catch up.
Shawn is right, with more playing time the balance is pretty good and different teams will play different styles, the more games you play with and against, naturally the greater variety you will see.
The playbooks for the various teams are supposed to be team specific but you will see redundancy through out each teams playbook. I haven’t had any problem playing as multiple teams; the playbooks have enough of the same plays that I can always find plays that I am comfortable with. Whether this a problem, depends on your perspective, I tend to get bored playing as the same team running all the same plays, but I am getting that feeling even playing as different teams in almost every game I play, especially on the defensive side of the ball. On the other hand there are only a certain number of plays a team can run and to expect there to be 500 different plays on offense would be a little unrealistic, but if you have been playing this series and Madden for the last few years, you will not see much new.
The playbooks are standard EA fare – they’re deep, with a lot of different choices. They are somewhat homogenous, however.
Unless you’re playing with Air Force or a similar squad that depends heavily on wishbones, “flexbones” and option play, you’ll see the same plays in most every team’s playbook.
GRAPHICS and PRESENTATION
NCAA Football 2003 is a great looking game. It starts with the uniforms, they nailed the colors and the design for every team that I am familiar with. The colors of the uniforms are vibrant and rich, this may sound like a trivial matter but it really adds to the atmosphere of the game. They did a good job on the stadiums even capturing the surrounding areas of the stadiums. For instance they finally put some mountains in the background of my alma mater, Utah State. The crowds aren’t much but that is one thing I could care less about.
The graphics in NCAA Football 2003 are often a wonder to behold. Uniforms are beautifully rendered, and the intricately detailed stadiums show the same amount of care. For example, at Colorado’s Folsom Field, the Gamow Tower, the engineering buildings and the field house all can be seen nestled under the majestic Flatirons of Boulder. Outstanding work.
Don’t forget “Touchdown Jesus” in South Bend.
Oh. Right. How could I forget?
There are numerous new animations but the ones that are most relevant to gameplay are the new running animations. There are new animations that allow your RB to fight for extra yardage, he will now twist, spin and lunge for extra yards. There are still a few too many tackles where you runner is just knocked from his feet, but this is a minor quibble.
Another nice animation occurs when a runner places his hand upon the back of a diving tackler, and uses him to vault himself by on his way down the field. The new running animations are both practical and pleasant to watch.
On the Xbox version, there is a frame rate drop during many inside runs. (I have not played the PS2 version, so I cannot attest to a similar occurrence therein.) It’s not large, but it is noticeable, and a bit disappointing to see. That said, I could honestly say that it has never been an issue in actual game play – it simply moves a little slower as you’re traversing the line.
Should it be there? Probably not.
Should it ruin the game for you? Not unless you’re an extremely picky individual, and if so, you’ll be depriving yourself of an outstanding football experience.
There are also new tackling animations which add to the game. One that I like is where a defensive player grabs the runner by the shirt and slings him to the ground. In the past a lot of the tackles in NCAA looked like two guys just sort of running into each other and falling backwards. You really don’t see this much anymore most of the tackles are realistic looking.
The “shirt” tackle is impressive, and I’ve found that it causes a lot of fumbles, too. The tackling animations are much more varied than last year, and since many of them can be broken by ball carriers; it feels more fluid and realistic, as well.
There’s also a “clothesline” tackle that I’ve seen – it usually occurs when a charging linebacker meets a small wide receiver at top speed. It’s enough to make you cringe, and it often results in dropped passes, fumbles, and/or injuries.
It’s nice that many of the animations are not simply there for appearance’s sake – they can impact the game, as well – just as they should.
One area that still needs work in the collision detection area is the QB either throwing or pitching the ball. When pitching the ball I have seen the QB completely wrapped up, his arms against his body yet he will still completes a perfect pitch to his running back. You will see similar issues when the QB is passing, the ball will come out of his hand on unnatural looking angles when he is hit, could be my imagination but it seems like the CPU tends to benefit from these graphical glitches more often than I do. Another issue with the QB throwing animations is how the ball comes out of his hand, sometimes it comes out in unnatural angles, I suspect some of this is due to the user facing one way and then throwing to a receiver on the other side of the field.
In my opinion, collision detection has been improved substantially (watch a fumble get kicked around in a pile to see what I mean), but Jim is right when he mentions the peculiar throwing situations above.
You will see balls get to receivers when it appears that it should have gone about ten feet – if it wasn’t fumbled. It’s a bit disconcerting, but on the other hand, I’ve seen a lot more wobbly passes and outright quacking ducks than last year, so I see it as more of a graphical bugaboo – and to be truthful, it doesn’t bother me all that much.
Agreed, the collision detection as a whole is greatly improved. I might be whining but when it is so hard to pressure the QB and you finally lay a hit on him, and then the ball still comes out as if he actually threw it, even though his arms didn’t move can get the blood pressure up.
It’s a problem, and it’s definitely something for EA to improve upon. I guess I’m just feeling charitable, and willing to overlook a foible or two…
The graphical overlays are crisp and clean, but nothing we haven’t seen from this series before, for the most part they are timely and used at just about the right frequency. The in game menus are well done and easy to navigate again with nothing striking me as being that different from previous years.
There are some new features in the overlays that I’ve enjoyed. If you’re playing against another human with a profile, you’ll see how you’ve done in the past against that player – it will display your respective win-loss records, as well as your average passing, rushing and total yardage per game.
The team comparison at the beginning of the second half is also nice, as it highlights the major disparities between the two teams – whether it’s total yards, turnovers, or even time of possession. It’s a lot like what you see on television, and it’s a nice touch.
Overlays regarding player performance during the game seem to come up at the perfect times. I’ve played quite a few games where I figured my halfback had to be close to 100 yards rushing. Just as I’m about to stop the game and check the stats – the overlay pops up and lets me know exactly how he’s doing. Very nicely done.
Shawn makes some great points, I do enjoy seeing my won and loss record on the screen, except when it is not going so well.
C’est la vie…
The instant replays are unbelievable, you could literally just sit and watch replays of various plays from any angle you want and truly appreciate how great this game looks. Busting a long run and then watching the replay from ground level directly behind your running back is almost worth the price of this game alone.
There’s no doubt about it – the replays in NCAA Football 2003 are top-notch. I’ll find myself going over a play and marveling at the animations, stadiums, and the lighting, which portrays either sunlight or stadium light standards to near perfection. Lighting on the player models is spectacular. You’ll see sweat glisten on arms, and light will refract off of the players’ polyester jerseys. It’s extraordinary work by EA, and adds a subtle but noticeable amount of realism in the overall “look” of the game.
Kirk Herbstreit, Brad Nessler and Lee Corso are back this year with plenty of new lines, but you will still hear some of the same ones a little too often. They do a good job of sounding like they are interested in the game and at the game you are playing. Generally they are on top of the game situations, but even they get confused when the CPU should be running out the clock and is passing the ball. They also don’t understand why the CPU goes for it on 4th down so often. In seasonal or dynasty play you will only get the announcing team if your game is a regional or national game. I am still not sure if I like this idea, although I don’t mind just listening to the PA announcer.
The announcing team is quite good. They do get repetitive at times, but the “flow” of the commentary is excellent – with no breaks or pauses. There are even a few lines that will elicit a chuckle or two.
I love the fact that if you aren’t on television in Dynasty mode, the announcers don’t “make the trip”, as it were. I think it adds to the flavor of small schools’ games, and makes the televised games seem more important and intense.
The best part of the sound are the bands, now I don’t like marching band music but it really adds to the excitement of this game. It also seems they have just about every schools fight song, although I don’t remember Utah State’s. When the game is intense the noise picks up and the bands play, the crowd cheers, the illusion that you are at a real game is complete.
The on-field noises are good but I have noticed that when I hit the dive button to finish off a tackle I pretty much get the same sound whether I make solid contact or glancing contact, oh well not a big issue.
I’m not a fan of marching bands, either – but in this game, I love ‘em! Many schools have multiple “fight” songs that are played during the game, and the band plays at appropriate times during gameplay.
They’re also excellent at explaining, “Who’s the man?!”
While walloping my friend with the Tennessee Volunteers, “Rocky Top” apparently played one time too many (it may be that I was dancing to it, as well, come to think of it…), and my opponent could barely keep himself from flinging my XBox controller through my television screen.
I love “Rocky Top”…
NCAA Football 2003 – “Double Take – Part Two”
In this section, we’ll go over the various features that NCAA Football 2003 offers. Some affect the game itself, while some are just for show. We’ll let you know about all of them right here.
If you visit the “Inside EA Sports” section, you’ll find a menu choice for “Behind the Scenes”. This is a five-minute video of the making of the game, and is hosted by announcers Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit. It’s a fun and interesting little video, and a nice addition. Hopefully, more game companies will start to put more things like this in their games – while it’s not fancy by any means, I’m all for any additional content provided to the consumer, and this is a step in the right direction.
I agree this is a cool element added to many games and a great improvement over seeing pictures of the developers.
“My NCAA” Menu
A new addition this year is the “My NCAA” menu selection. This portion of the game contains information relevant to each user profile that’s been saved to hard drive or memory card.
The most notable feature within is the “Trophy Room”. In NCAA Football 2003, you can win many of the traditional trophies that rivals fight for year after year. You can win trophies like the “Old Oaken Bucket” (these are called “Rivalry” trophies), presented to the winner of the Purdue-Indiana game, and it will be stored in your trophy case. The trophy case appears as sort of a wooden shelving unit, and each “cubby” will contain a trophy that you’ve won. You can view the trophy up close, and next to it will be a plaque stating the date, opponent and score of the game in which you won it.
Any trophies that you win in “Dynasty” mode will be stored here, as well – including any Heisman trophies that your players may have won, or national championship trophies you may have earned.
The trophies add a great deal of replay value to the game, as you try to collect them all – often using teams that you probably wouldn’t otherwise – but how else will you get your mitts on the “Administaff Bayou Bucket”?
If you like collecting and unlocking elements of a game than the trophy room is right up your alley. It is also amusing to see the types and varieties of trophies teams will play for.
“Pennant Collection” and “Campus Challenge”
Returning from last year’s iteration is the “Pennant Collection”. During play against the CPU (but not against other human players), you will earn points that will be saved to your user profile by achieving certain feats or statistical milestones. You can use these points to “purchase” pennants. These pennants can be used to boost your team’s abilities, utilize in-game cheats, or unlock “secret” items. Historic All-American or university teams, mascot teams, or new stadiums to play in can be unlocked with the pennants. It’s a fun feature that also adds replay value to the game. Related closely to the “Pennant Collection” is the “Campus Challenge”. This feature tracks the feats you’ve achieved to earn your points used above. It lists not only what you’ve done, but also what you’ve yet to do. Some are simple (throw two touchdown passes in a game), and some are ridiculously difficult (record two safeties in a game). There are five levels of difficulty - the more difficult tasks award more points, and they’re multiplied by the difficulty setting of your game.
I love the campus challenge and then at the same time I hate it, because it turns you into a selfish gamer, instead of trying to win, suddenly you start trying to get a player 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving or what ever the goal. Even when I tell myself to ignore the challenges, subconsciously I am trying to achieve them.
NCAA Football 2003 tracks an amazing number of stats, and most of them are saved here and attached to your user profile. Your personal best offensive and defensive stats are tracked, along with the date and opponent they were set against. Individual and team records are displayed in the same fashion, but instead of list simply your records, these are the top records, regardless of user.
Extremely detailed stats are available, and broken down in a number of ways in the “User vs. User Stats” subsection. It’s a great way to gauge how you match up against the CPU, or against any of your regular human opponents. I’ve actually used this section to my advantage before – I have a run-based offense, and through the stats, I realized just how infrequently I pass. The next game I played against a friend, I mixed up my playbook, and surprised him with a more diverse offense, leading to a win.
I’m an admitted stats junkie, so while your mileage may vary with this feature, the depth of stat tracking is outstanding, and adds as much to NCAA as you want it to.
One of the highlights of this game is to be able to track your personal bests, see who it was against and what date. As Shawn mentioned, it can also be used as a strategy tool, I worked hard to give more balance to my attack after seeing how pass happy I was.
In the “My Playbook” section, you can choose a particular playbook to be used as your default playbook – regardless of the team you’re playing. You can also set your audibles from within this section, as well. I personally prefer to sample all the “flavor” of college football, so I use the each team’s specific playbook when I play. As a result, this feature doesn’t add a lot for me, but for someone who’s comfortable with one playbook, this feature provides both convenience and control.
I agree with Shawn on this one, it is nice to be able to use a set playbook but I prefer the challenge of using the playbook of my chosen team.
The last section in “My NCAA” is the “My Settings” subsection. This allows the user to change their button configuration between the default and alternate settings, or toggle the vibration function on or off. In addition, some in-game preferences can be set. Automatic substitutions and their rates can be modified, as well as setting the passing mode and automatic defensive shifts. Every setting in this section will override the default settings for that user profile. This feature is a big timesaver for those who prefer to play with a different style than the default settings provide, but don’t want to change the global game settings themselves.
Located on the main menu, the “Options” menu selection has some of the most impressive features in NCAA Football 2003. The “Load/Save” menu can be found here, so everything that you change or create in this section can be preserved – so you don’t have to do it again next time…
Huge improvement in this years game is the ability to save your profiles, settings and so forth, last year I would lose my profile or end up with multiple profiles. It is all very seamless this year when you end a game everything is saved.
The “Settings” menu provides the user with complete control over their NCAA experience. All the expected settings are available – quarter length, difficulty, injuries/fatigue, cameras, sound, you name it – and it’s there.
The famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) “sliders” are here, as well. The sliders let you tweak human or AI settings and penalty frequency to your heart’s content; giving you the ability to create what you think best represents football as you like it in your game.
In my opinion, “sliders” are the best thing to happen to sports video gaming in a long time. I don’t believe that their inclusion takes anything away from the game, or that it leads to uninspired programming - as suggested by many reviewers in this industry. I don’t tweak sliders unless I feel it’s necessary, but when I do, I’m very happy that I have this kind of control over my game. In my mind, there’s no such thing as “too much control” over your own game – you paid for it, and you should be able to enjoy it any way you like. “Sliders” provide you with exactly that opportunity.
A few pleasant additions to the standard settings can be found in the “System Settings” subsection. When you play NCAA for the first time, it asks you to select your favorite team, and that selection will be used in menu graphics and music. That team can be changed here, as well as the default teams that appear the start of an exhibition game. More importantly, rosters, records and settings can be reset – separately. I’ve always why these options were always tied together in the past, but it’s no longer an issue, and it’s just another example of the welcome flexibility that EA Sports has chosen to integrate into NCAA Football 2003.
I have to admit I am starting to come over to the dark side in regards to sliders, of course that could have something to do with getting my butt kicked on the default settings in NFL2K3 a couple of times. I also realized that I use to use them in Gameday when Gameday was king. I think the problem started with the growing popularity of forums and threads that state 30 minutes after the game came out “THE ULTIMATE SLIDER SETTINGS”. Also reading many posts of people claiming to world domination in Madden only to find out that their slider settings were completely crazy. Overall, they are a good thing and the flexibility they allow you is great for all gamers.
The “Rosters” section should be familiar to anyone who’s played an EA Sports football game in the past few years. The menu is cleanly designed and well organized. You can view or edit any player in the game, modify depth charts and delete any created player from here. It’s a simple, yet powerful feature that does everything it’s supposed to.
Again, while familiar to anyone who’s played Madden or NCAA before, the player creator gives the user total control over a new player’s vitals, appearance, and abilities.
Quite frankly, EA has had this type of feature down so well, for so long, that it’s becoming difficult to give it the credit it’s due for its ease of use and effectiveness.
One of the more impressive features in NCAA Football 2003; the school creation utility allows players to create their own college, real or imagined.
After you’ve selected your school’s name, nickname, city, state, and colors, you can get down to the nitty-gritty of building your future national champions. You can choose from a large selection of logos for your helmet, including real college emblems, English or Greek lettering, or choose from a list of generic logos. You can select any playbook for your new squad, and select a fight song to be played at your stadium.
You’ll choose one of 12 “team types”, from “juggernaut” to “cupcake”. This selection will determine the makeup of your team’s generated roster. A “juggernaut” can walk into Doak Campbell Stadium without breaking a sweat, while a “cupcake” will have to play the game of their lives to beat Prairie View. So if you want a challenge – you’ve got it.
Stadium creation comes next. After you pick your stadium’s type and name, you can choose its orientation, press box, scoreboard and video screen placement. The field’s surface, end zone markings and on-field logos are next. You can add a track circling the field, and the “backdrop” you’ll see behind your field. The stadium creator is surprisingly versatile, and quite a bit of fun. I re-created my old high school team and stadium for this review, and the stadium was actually looked reminiscent of the real thing. Good stuff.
Lastly, uniform design is on tap. Show off your sporting sartorial sense with a myriad of options for home and away uniforms. You’ll have your choice between helmet, pants and jersey types, with a virtually unlimited number of color options. By and large, you should be able to make almost any kind of uniform you can imagine for your new school.
After you’ve finished your school and saved it, you can select and modify its roster like any others in the “Rosters” menu. You can also use your school in “Dynasty Mode”, replacing an existing school in any conference, or as an independent. All in all, the “Create-A-School” feature is fun, flexible and very functional.
These features are well done and provide another way to get re-play ability out of this game. The create a teams players will have real names, which can add to the fun of the game without having to edit player names. Every year my girlfriend will help me out in the uniform design area. There are many logos to choose from but yet I can never quite find one that fits me. I would also like the ability to add my team to the Big Ten instead of replacing a particular team. Other than the those small complaints they nail this area of the game.
First things first – “Season Mode” is a single-season version of “Dynasty Mode”. That’s it. At the end of your season, NCAA will ask you if you’d like to convert your season into a “Dynasty Mode” game. If you don’t, you’re done. Therefore, we won’t separately review “Season Mode”. Please read the Dynasty section for the details that apply to both “Dynasty” and “Season” modes.
In “Practice” mode, you take a team, select an opponent, and choose a style of practice: “Normal”, “Offense Only”, or “Kickoff”. Basically, you pick a play or plays, and work on your execution. It’s nothing that you probably haven’t seen before, but it does the job well enough.
Basically, the “Mascot Game” is an “Exhibition” game. The only difference is that the player models are now team mascots with juiced-up attributes. You can unlock more selectable mascot teams using your “Pennant Collection”. It looks ridiculous, and is good for a laugh – for about five minutes.
Remember those trophies we mentioned earlier? Well, here’s the easiest way to get them.
The Mascot game is good for a few laughs and also amazing that the mascots look like real players running around with the same moves as the regular players. Next year I think they should actually “motion capture” a real mascot so that this mode is more realistic. J
The rivalry game is great way to jump into NCAA and get the feel for the atmosphere right away and give yourself a chance to unlock some trophies for your trophy cabinet. Also note that various teams have more than one rival, I didn’t catch this at first. The rivalries are what college football is all about; you could have fun just trying to win all the trophies.
“Dynasty Mode” – the raison d'être of NCAA Football 2003.
Choose your school, and make them (or keep them) a contender for the National Championship. You can choose from any school, of course, and even select your created team or Division II team after replacing an existing Division I squad. Up to twelve different players can handle different teams in a single “Dynasty”.
Within the “Dynasty” menus, while you can still access the “Options” (with the addition of your team’s injury report in “Rosters”) and “My NCAA” menus, there are a few new ones specific to running a NCAA “Dynasty”, and you’ll need to use every one of them to keep yourself ahead of the competition.
Before you start your season, head over to the “Preseason Options” menu. Here, you have two things to consider, both of them critical to your upcoming campaign.
You can redshirt players as long as they have not been reshirted in previous seasons. Of even more importance is your schedule. In-conference games are “locked”, and you cannot change them. However, you can usually schedule between three and four out-of-conference games. Depending on the opposing teams’ schedules, not all teams will be available every week, but with a little bit of care, you can add a few cupcakes to pad your record, or add some Top 25 teams to schedule in an attempt to make a splash on the national scene. It adds flexibility and fun, along with some authenticity to the college football experience.
For an independent team like Utah State you only have two teams that are locked into your schedule, Utah and BYU, so you can really alter the schedule to give yourself a challenge.
After that’s complete, a visit to the “Coach Options” menu is in order.
Under “Coach Strategy”, you can set your team’s playbook (assuming you don’t want to use the team’s default one), toggle recruiting assistance on or off, and set your coaching strategies for simulated games.
Under “Coach Report Card”, you can find the most pertinent information regarding your program under your stewardship. You’ll receive either praise or criticism each week depending on how your team performed in its last game. Your career stats are also available, as are your results on local and national television, and your average attendance.
How you perform on television weighs heavily on recruits in the off-season, so ratchet up your intensity when you’re on TV – it’s the only way some of those high-school kids will see you.
Your contract information is also available here. Select it, and you’ll see what the school expects of you. (Assuming that you didn’t turn off “Contracts” in the opening “Dynasty” setup menu, of course…but you wouldn’t cheat like that, right?).
Under “Coach Positions”, you can view your program’s current prestige, as well as that of your coach. Prestige comes with victories, and greatly enhances your odds of landing that blue-chip recruit your program needs.
You can also resign from here, and find a new job with another university. Here, however, is one of the disappointing flaws in NCAA.
I’ve simulated many 10-year long dynasties for this review, and this problem always cropped up, regardless of the situation. I simulated three seasons as the coach of Central Michigan University. Despite the difficulty of recruiting in Michigan against two major programs, I managed to eke out two bowl appearances in my three years. Instead of re-signing with CMU, I decided to see what other opportunities might await my promising alter ego. As one might imagine, a new coach who takes a perennial doormat to a bowl twice in three years would be a candidate for a lot of jobs; including some with awfully good teams.
However, when you look for a new job, the only teams available are lower ranked than the one you just left. Sometimes, that still means you could hop to a bigger name school, but only because they’ve had an awful year. In other words, you really can’t be promoted. If you had a team win the national championship, you could have your pick of clubs, but why would you? You already have the best team in the country!
Essentially, this makes switching teams only sensible when you’re bored (or if you just got fired); the concept of “building a career” doesn’t really work in NCAA, and that’s too bad.
I am still having trouble with my own career, so I am not too worried about my alter ego coaching self, but Shawn points are duly noted. I did notice that I wasn’t fired at Utah State going into my 4th years even though my best season was 6-6. But the prestige of the program went from 1 star to 3 stars and the school offered me an extension so I took it.
There are more still more ways to evaluate your program.
“Team Stats/Rankings” lets you view the coaches’ and media polls, the “Bowl Rankings” (it was the BCS last year, and functions in exactly the same manner), and the projected bowl match-ups.
However, the devil’s in the details, and NCAA’s most egregious issue rears its ugly head right here.
I mentioned earlier that I had simulated many 10-year long dynasties for this review, and when I did, I consistently came up with some surprising results.
As the years go by, teams’ fortunes rise and fall, but some teams’ fortunes rise and fall in ways no one could possibly anticipate.
- Year 4: Utah #2, North Texas #11
- Year 5: Utah #1, Fresno St. #9, Akron #16
- Year 6: Utah #3, North Texas #15
- Year 7: Utah #1, North Texas #2, Fresno State #5, Toledo #17, UTEP #20, Middle Tennessee State #24, Arkansas State #25
- Year 8: Utah #1, Fresno St. #3, Miami (OH) #5, North Texas #7, Arkansas State #13, Middle Tennessee State #17, Akron #24
- Year 9: Fresno State #2, North Texas #5, Utah #6, Akron #8, Miami (OH) #13, Middle Tennessee State #21
- Year 10: SMU #2, Fresno St. #5, North Texas #6, Middle Tennessee State #8, Utah #9, Arkansas State #20, Northern Illinois #22, UTEP #23, UL Monroe #25
All together now: “Uhh…”
I can guess as to what EA was trying to do – and it’s understandable. This is a game, and if someone wants to take Arkansas State to multiple national championship games, they should be able to. It shouldn’t be easy, but it should be possible.
However, I feel very confident when I say that Arkansas State and will never, ever win a national championship in the real world.
Therefore, EA desperately needs to implement some sort of logic that keeps Florida State, Nebraska, et al, near the top every year, while the Arkansas States of the world should remain perennial bottom-feeders – as long as they’re not controlled by human players. Some flexibility and fluidity in the polls makes sense, but in general, these types of schools dwell in a specific area of the polls year in and year out – and it should be represented correctly, because “if it’s in the game, it’s (supposed) to be in the game”…
Regardless, it’s an unforgivable flaw, because after only a few seasons of play, the game’s version of the NCAA will no longer resemble the real thing except in passing.
Now, back to the good stuff.
Standings, team stats, and “Stat Rankings” (where your team ranks in your conference and the nation in many categories) add to the wealth of information available at your fingertips.
Season awards are also accessible here. The Heisman Trophy race will be displayed here, along with many other awards to be won.
All-American teams are listed, as well, and are sortable by the first and second teams. All in all, between these two sections, everything that’s happened on the gridiron is listed in here. It’s thorough, easy to use, and perfect for stats junkies.
The stat tracking is great in this game whether you are just interested in this season or you want to see a players stats from previous seasons, it’s all there and it is very easy to access. One thing I noticed about the Heisman race in the seasons that I simulated it went to a Running Back who didn’t seem to be the best choice there were always a couple of others from big schools with slightly better numbers, must be political like it is in real life.
Finally, let’s get down to playing some games!
Under the “Play Week” menu option, you have two choices, the weekly schedule, or your team’s schedule. From either, you can select which games to play, and which ones to simulate. Your combined opponents’ record can be found on the “Team Schedule” screen so you can easily discern your strength of schedule. On the “Weekly Schedule” screen, you can see which games will be broadcast on local or national television, and find out who’s playing in the “Game of the Week”. Select a match-up, and with the click of a button, you can view detailed match-up information, including your teams’ ratings, rankings, current streak and more.
Again, like the rest of NCAA, these menus are laid out simply and effectively while displaying almost every detail you could imagine.
Note that you can run multiple schools franchises with in one actual NCAA franchise, which could be nice for people who want to have multiple users compete. For one user it really presents a challenge to recruit for more than one team. Probably not a good idea to choose teams in the same state cause you would be recruiting against yourself quite a bit…
After your season ends, however, the real work has just begun.
There are six major parts to the off-season, and they happen in order. There’s also an off-season schedule to help you keep track of them.
The first part is finding out which players are leaving your team. Obviously, the seniors are gone, but some of the juniors and even a few sophomores may leave for the greener pastures of the NFL, and you can see how they do if you export the draft class, and import it into Madden 2003 (as a side note, I have tried this in Madden, and it works very nicely indeed). The problem with these players leaving is obvious – the seniors were likely your best players, and only the really good juniors and sophomores leave your team, giving you even more holes in your lineup to address.
I noticed that last year when I was playing out my games as a franchise I kept losing my star receiver or running back early, because the stats were skewed cause I used them so much. This was very annoying, highly unlikely that guys from Utah State would go pro early. This year I just simmed the games and got more realistic stats so players were not leaving early. Of course, I didn’t really have too many blue chippers.
Next comes the big one – recruiting. This is one of the most challenging and enjoyable parts of NCAA Football 2003.
When you start, you’ll see a map of the United States and Canada (no provinces, though – just one, huge area), with the state your school’s in highlighted in red.
You’ll have five weeks to recruit. All five weeks function in exactly the same manner.
Your school will have a “budget” of points to spend on recruiting; the amount of points dependent on your prestige and last season’s record. Recruiting a player costs points, and the further you have to travel, the more points it’ll cost you to visit them – so budget wisely.
Pay attention to your points, my first year I had a nice year and went to a bowl and had loads of points to play with. However, I lost like 27 seniors and my next year was rough and I finished up with a sub par record and very few budget points. At a place like Utah State this means you will be recruiting mostly one and two star players and pretty much can only afford in state players. Which is a tough way to rebuild a program.
The most important screen in recruiting is the “Team Overview”. This screen will show you the number of returning players by position and class, the number of current committed recruits and current targets by position, and the number of players needed at each position. The scholarships available to offer recruits are also listed at the bottom of the screen. This page is the “nerve center” of your recruitment efforts, so view it often, and pay close attention to what it’s telling you.
Heed Shawn’s warning if you don’t pay attention to your teams needs you could end up having walk on’s starting at key positions. Targeting guys at a position of need is no guarantee you will get them or that in a state like Utah a quality Safety is interested in you, but trying to work with out knowing your needs and commitments is next to impossible.
There are other valuable reports available to help you succeed. You can view the “National Top 100” prospects, or the prospects in any particular state. You can also view all prospects, or just the ones that have expressed interest in attending your school.
There are two other menus that display the prospects that you’ve targeted, as well as a detailed view of all your returning players. You’ll likely use every single one of these reports while recruiting.
- Rating from one to five stars
- His national ranking by position
- Hometown (One small nitpick to mention here – players’ hometowns aren’t always towns. I live in Colorado, and I’ve noticed Colorado recruits coming from Southglenn and Castlewood. Problem is, those aren’t towns – they’re “areas”. What locals used to refer to as Southglenn is actually a strip of land sandwiched between Englewood and Littleton, while Castlewood is actually a state park – Castlewood Canyon - just east of my hometown, the tiny hamlet of Franktown, Colorado. That said, seeing prospects from nearby Parker always warms my heart, as it’s where I attended Ponderosa High School – no “Hoss”, “Hop Sing”, “Highway to Heaven” or “Commander Adama” jokes, please – I’ve heard ‘em… While it’s not perfect, having the hometowns of the player in the game is a nice touch, and very welcome despite the occasional geographic disparities.)
- Player’s tendency at his position
- 40-meter sprint time
- Relevant workout numbers (specific workouts vary by position)
- Interest Level in your school
- Prospect’s top three schools in order of preference
Most of these are self-explanatory on how they affect the player’s rating. GPA is an excellent determinant on how quickly the player will reach his potential.
If you click another button on the prospect, you can look at his interest level by way of a colored bar – a full interest bar means he really want to attend your school, while an empty interest bar tips you off to the fact that you couldn’t recruit him even if you bought his mom a Lexus…
- Visit by the head coach (most expensive)
- Visit by the assistant coach
- Call by the head coach
- Call by the assistant coach (least expensive)
Carefully gauge the prospect’s ability and interest before you spend your valuable points. Local players tend to stay in state, so you may not have to spend nearly as much to get them. Blue-chip players, however, get offers from all over the country, so even if they’re interested, other schools will be pushing hard to sign him, so you better be prepared to go to the mat, and spend the points to get your man.
Don’t waste a lot of points on an out-of-state prospect who’s not very interested – your odds are low unless you’re in charge of a Top 10 team – then your odds are only average.
After you’ve allocated your points for the week, advance to the next week. The CPU will handle the actions of the other schools, and then you’ll be back, possibly with a few new committed recruits. Open the “Current Targets” screen – now, when you view your targeted prospect, your scouting staff will have something to say about him. They’ll add a new note to him every week you visit. The prospect may have also changed his interest level regarding your school, and he may have switched around his top three schools, as well.
Be careful to make sure that you check your current targets, if you targeted them the first week, but then they don’t show up on your interested targets list, they are still a target and are using up one of your potential scholarships.
The strategy you use may vary depending on whether you are actually going to play the games or you are going to simulate them. If you are going to play the games, remember speed kills and I would always go for the faster player.
Pay close attention to the changes in each prospect - It’ll help you decide if you should fish or cut bait. Keep in mind that if you recruit fewer players than are listed as necessary in the “Needs” column in your overview, you’ll have a walk-on join your team – and they’re usually pretty lousy. It’s better to recruit someone mediocre that fills a need than put all your eggs into one blue-chipper’s basket – he may decide to go another direction, and you’ll have nothing to show for all those spent points.
In my fourth year at Utah State, I got interest from my first blue chipper, a Running Back from out of New Mexico and I was his first choice. I threw everything I had at him each week and for the first 3 weeks, I was still his number one choice, then in week 4, he shifted his number one choice to New Mexico. I decide to still throw the full amount of points at him, but he chose New Mexico. I could have used those points to chase other players but by the 4th week it is pretty tough to dramatically change players’ interest. These are the types of decisions you will be faced with each year and each week.
One thing I noticed is that in the 4th or 5th week some players will appear that are suddenly interested in you that were not there the first few weeks. I imagine that the schools they were interested in withdrew their offers and now they were scrambling for a scholarship. I picked up some pretty good players this way.
After five weeks of recruiting, the CPU will finalize the signings, and assign walk-ons to teams that need them. If you head back to the main menu, you can select “Recruiting Recap”, and see how you did – the screen displays the nation’s top recruiting classes, and three players per team that the CPU figures will make the biggest impact.
Now that recruiting is complete, it’s time to see how your returning players improved in the off-season. By selecting “Training Players” from the “Off-Season Schedule”, you can view how each player’s attributes improved, and where they stand coming into the new season.
This is kind of cool, but not really sure what the logic is behind the improvement process, it seemed that my really bad players were the ones who showed the greatest improvement.
Your next step is to cut players if you have more than 55 on your roster. NCAA Football 2003 only allows for 55-man rosters, so if you’ve exceeded that with your new recruits, somebody’s got to go. You may view players by overall ranking or by position here to decide who needs not attend spring practices.
Cutting players is tough after you spent so much time recruiting them, I was surprised at how hard it is to cut your roster down to 55 and still not feel like you have a lot of depth. I have more empathy for the NFL coaches now.
The next step is simple – set your new depth charts. Depending on how good your team is, however, this exposes another curiosity in NCAA Football 2003.
Oftentimes, incoming freshman have surprisingly high ratings. Their ratings rarely exceed 80, but for the first few years, you’ll end up starting an inordinate number of freshmen, as they’re often superior to your returning players. After a couple of years, the problem works itself out, as all of the original players’ college careers end.
This is the one negative I see with the Dynasty mode, you would have to be a pretty poor recruiter to not significantly upgrade the quality of your team. At big schools with high prestige it is too easy to load up with blue chippers, so if you actually play the games, winning is not as challenging as it should be.
The sixth and final step is to start your new season with your revamped roster, and begin anew your quest for the national championship.
You made it – congratulations! We’ve given you all the information we can, and hopefully, answered most, if not all of your questions regarding NCAA Football 2003. So, let’s rate it!
As I was playing NCAA 2003 there were times when I felt like I would score it in the 90’s and other times in the low 80’s, it can be that frustrating at times, when the AI goes against you. Overall, it is a lot of fun and the depth of features is beyond compare. Easily one of the most immersive football titles made to date.
My opinion? It’s fun, challenging, deep and infinitely replayable. It’s certainly not the perfect game, but due to the authentic college atmosphere, the on-field play, the off-season recruiting, and the challenge involved in creating a perennial contender, NCAA Football 2003’s “Dynasty Mode” provided me with the single most engrossing and entertaining time I’ve ever spent in a sports game, and it’s the best reason to wholeheartedly recommend NCAA Football 2003 to any football aficionado.