One of the high points in my gaming life was when I saw NCAA Football 99 in
action on the original PlayStation. Being a fan of the college game more than
the pro-style attack, I scarfed that version up and played season upon season.
My zeal for the NCAA series has never waned, and it was one of my most
anticipated PS2 titles.
To answer the call, EA Sports has granted football fans their wish by bringing
college football to the latest console. Graduates and fans of all 117 Division
1-A schools and 27 1-AA schools can take their team up through the ranks and
into one of the 26 bowl games. Never has there been so many post-season bowls
represented in the series, and getting to the top bowls is made all the tougher
with the game's use of the imperfect BCS system (darn EA for bringing this
flawed true life ranking system to the game). So grab your helmet, hit the
practice field, and gear up for some pigskin.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The introduction movie in NCAA 2002 does not give the game justice. In years
past we've been treated to actual footage of teams rushing out of the tunnel
or making spectacular plays. In the PS2 version, the scene is set using CG
movies. Based on the intro you may be expecting a letdown once the game
starts, but the opposite is true. The rendering for the stadiums is just
about perfect. While the fields seem to miss that certain realistic look, the
infrastructure is spot on. Press boxes are in their appropriate spots for
every stadium and midfield logos are intact. If you play the Volunteers the
recognizable endzone checkerboard pattern is there. About the only complaint
you can make about the stadiums is that the flags are static and don't flap
in the wind. To make up for this oversight, EA implemented some attendance
logic. If you play as a strong, big name program you can expect a packed
house. Playing as the Rice Owls, who aren't a big draw, I opened the season
in front of a few diehard fans. As my record improved, the crowd base became
What really stands out are the player models. The players carry a strong
resemblance to those in Madden 2001 for the PS2 minus the ghostly stares and
squatty physiques. Each player has a unique shape and size, and position
players wear the appropriate helmets. By the way, for some programs, helmet
stickers are awarded for good play. The nicely textured helmets look freshly
polished, and once a few stickers are added are very realistic. Play as FSU
and earn some tomahawks.
Once the players are in motion you'll see a variety of animation sequences.
The receiving animations are more diverse than the multiple single-handed grabs
found in Madden. While there are one-handed catches, you'll also see receivers
diving for the ball, making various two-handed grabs, and performing sliding
catches. The running game features players that stumble to the ground over
several yards, get tripped instantly, or the popular whip tackle. I've even
seen an arm tackle around the neck. QBs can embarrass the daylights out of the
defense on option plays. Starting with the snap, QBs take a step back followed
by a run to the left or right. And in true option fashion QBs will often carry
the ball two-handed in front of them. A fake pitch often freezes players in
their tracks as the QB's arm naturally pops out and back. If he does pitch
the ball, it flips through the air before landing in the running back's grasp
(or, if you're unlucky, on the ground).
Playing the game is easy with the default camera while on offense. Prior to
the snap you can zoom out to check the coverage on your wideouts. If desired
you can also select a wider view to take in the whole field at once. On
defense, you unfortunately can't zoom out to see where receivers are with the
Perhaps the only significant flaw is some spotty collision detection. I've
been tackled many times by an elbow as my running back brushes a defensive
lineman. Upon watching the replay you'll question the validity of the tackle.
Likewise, caught balls magically make their way into a receiver's hands at
times. Finally, some penalties are clearly bogus upon closer inspection.
Clipping and holding calls don't leave replay evidence behind. Still, the
overall graphical presentation is very nice.
Presentation/Audio : 80
Probably the thing that grabbed my attention in the original NCAA game was the
audio. The audio was certainly understated, consisting of a public address
announcer, the players, the umpire, the fans, and the bands. With the PS2
release, EA decided to add a television style booth to the game. The game's
audio is actually enhanced with the addition of Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit,
and Brad Nessler. Prior to the game the trio will comment on the upcoming
matchup and make their predictions. After the kickoff they supply diverse
color commentary and play-by-play that doesn't repeat itself regularly. The
only complaint I have is that they criticize me every time I call a fair catch
in the endzone. They never do the same when the AI team does the same.
What's truly unique about the booth feature is that it's only available on
televised games. During the season you can view the weekly schedule prior to
the game. Some games are carried regionally and others nationally. The
remaining games don't even earn a local broadcast. In my first season with
Rice, I didn't get a televised game until I traveled up to Nebraska. Late in
the season, as my Owls rolled along with an undefeated record (Huskers, you
suck), the media took notice and started televising my games. After finishing
the season with one loss, the following season saw most of the games televised.
Trust me, you'll want to hear Corso and company. In their place you'll hear
the wretched play-by-play of the public address announcer. More times than not
he blows the calls. He's always off by a yard on runs, changes in possession
usually have negative yard calls, and touchdowns also have lost yardage calls.
Aside from the PA announcer, the game's sound just doesn't have the pizzazz of
previous editions. The crowds will chant ("Go, go, go" on 4 and short
situations) and cheer, but the din is not overwhelming. Likewise, bands are
subdued and not all schools have their fight songs included. I'm still waiting
for "Louie, Louie" to played at the Rice games.
Interface/Options : 85
There's one thing you can always expect out of an EA football game, and that's
a substantial dynasty or franchise mode. NCAA 2002 is no exception as the
multi-year dynasty mode is the main feature of the game. During the off-season
you can recruit nationally and cut or red-shirt players. Furthermore, there's
the added pressure of the coach mode where you must establish a set of goals
to keep your job. Oddly, though, my Rice coach was tasked with winning the
national championship once over the next three years or going to bowl games in
two of three years. Someone needs to tell EA the Owls are all about education:
the players are truly scholar-athletes. This ain't no gun totin' Miami.
Besides the dynasty mode, the game has a season and exhibition mode
For any game you can fully customize the play. AI settings are controlled
with sliders and cover things like running back, QB, and receiver effectiveness
and secondary abilities. And like Madden, the defaults won't satisfy the
extreme football fan, so the ability to change the AI is appreciated.
The statistical engine tracks stats for the entire spectrum of teams, by team,
or by conference. The stats listed are realistic, though some of my players
weren't always represented in the stats. My running back had a hefty run
average but failed to make the NCAA list. Oddly he was at the top of the WAC
charts. I can only assume that the game has a cutoff for some stats (for
example, averages may require a certain number of carries).
Another feature of the stats engine is the top 25 bowl and BCS system. Two
polls are available. The coaches vote in one poll while the media handles
the other. Over the course of the season the media was on top of the action.
Their poll was right on and seemed realistic. It wasn't until late in the
season that I even cracked the top 25 despite an undefeated record. The teams
ahead of me all had good records. In the other poll, however, some
suspect voting was occurring. It is not uncommon to see teams with 2 or 3
losses in the top 15 during the first half of the season. The coaches appear
to give too much respect to the bigger schools. After week 8 the BCS kicks
in. The much-criticized system takes into account your ranking in the two
polls, your strength of schedule, and the number of losses.
NCAA takes an idea from Madden and introduces the Campus Challenge. Based on
your performance on the field, you earn credits which can be redeemed for
campus cards. The campus cards include things like extra performance for
certain schools, past teams, mascot teams, and extra bowl games. Unfortunately
the campus cards are nowhere as addictive as the Madden cards.
Initially I found the memory card management confusing. If you want to save
rosters, dynasty stats, settings, and user profiles you'll give up half of your
memory card. I freed up the amount of space listed on the back of the game
and proceeded to save everything. My initial dynasty run got blown away after
I was unable to delete a roster file mid-game to free up space. I'd select
delete but the memory card status never appeared to update. By the way, the
game ships with nothing but player numbers. You can fill in the names and the
PA announcer will say their names but you need to enter the roster. Rather
than enter the names manually, grab yourself a Sharkport and download them
from our affiliate www.maddenmania.com. At the end of the season you can even
export graduating players and early outs on the memory card for the upcoming
Gameplay : 80
When it comes to sports games I'm a huge sim fan. However, if the game bends
the sim rules a bit I don't mind as long as the gameplay is entertaining. In
many respects NCAA 2002 is a sim title, but there are certainly areas where it
falls flat on its face.
Without a doubt, the running game is exceptional. My preference for football
games is to run the ball. Since NCAA is using an upgrade of Madden's engine,
we'd expect good things, and good things are what we get. Backs have a
realistic gait as they try to find the holes in the line. Finding holes is
definitely the key to the running game. It takes quick reflexes to find and
hit the hole before it closes. Once it does you're trapped behind the line
frantically looking for a way out. Runs to the outside require you to read
the defense and check for blitzes from the ends. Even on option plays you have
to be wary of a cornerback blitzing from the side and running your QB down
from behind. Pitches are implemented well. The AI defense will mark your QB.
You can fake a pitch to the running back and hope you freeze the defense, but
this only works some of the time. Likewise, if a defensive player commits to
the QB you can try to pitch at the last moment. But if you wait too long the
pitch could be errant and lead to a turnover. If you find a play that works
once, you might be able to try it again once or twice. But after a couple of
tries the AI catches on and is wise to your playcalling. You won't be able to
run pitch plays all the way down the field. The only significant complaint I
have with the running game is the cheap tackling at times. When trying to
break through the line you can expect to be brought to the ground by a
lineman's elbow or brush of the leg. And in general the tackling animations
aren't too convincing.
While your running game mostly plays superbly, the AI team still can't run. I
have yet to find a console football game that runs realistically. To its
credit NCAA doesn't abandon the running game early like previous versions or
the Madden series. However, it still can't run effectively. It's easy to hold
the AI offense to under 50 yards. Incidentally, I have played a few dozen
games on the All-American level, which is one step below the most difficult
The game breaks down in the passing game. On offense the game is easy to pick
apart on out patterns. Passing over the middle is more difficult, but the AI
typically runs single coverage on the wide outs, and crossing patterns easily
disrupt the AI secondary. On defense you'll curse your inept secondary. I
don't mind if my cornerbacks and safeties are slower than the offensive
players, but their awareness is lousy. Even with the sliders maxed out the
secondary play lacks.
When in a pass defense, if you rush the QB you will encounter an offensive
line that at times is impenetrable. Once a lineman locks on it is very
difficult to break away, even if you move laterally. If you utilize the spin
and swim buttons the blatant holding isn't nearly as bad as Madden. Still,
it's annoying when the QB scrambles out of the pocket and you can't break
free from the offensive lineman. Blatant holding calls on both sides of the
ball are rarely called. One positive note about the QB play by the CPU is its
awareness to run out of the pocket or dump the ball. If your coverage is good
the CPU will stay in the pocket until it collapses, whereupon the QB will make
an escape. You still have to keep the pressure on as he'll make throws while
scrambling. If the heat is too intense he'll simply chuck the ball out of
Aside from some nice QB play, EA has substantially improved the AI clock
management. You no longer have to watch the CPU burn three timeouts in
succession followed by running plays. The AI is now smart. I've seen the AI
try to gain yardage near the end of the half only to get a third and long.
Rather than burn another timeout or hurry the offense, they'll use the full
25 second clock in an attempt to keep you off the field with a chance to score.
Something that takes getting used to is tackling. On defense tackling is
Momentum-based so that you can't simply tag an opponent and expect him to fall
down (though those elbow tackles are certainly effective). Even when you dive
at an opponent there's a chance you'll lack the power to make the tackle.
Another area which needs help is the special teams play. The AI has superior
pass and kick coverage, while your coverage is lousy, especially on punts. If
you call a safe punt return where you bring 4 blockers back, the blockers
completely miss their blocks. You'll actually fare better if you call a punt
block formation and bring the defender on the right back to block. By
contrast, when you're placed in a kicking situation the new kicking interface
is great. Borrowing a page out of Tiger Woods, EA has brought a new kicking
system to NCAA. The first button tap starts a kicking meter. A meter winds
up in power, and the second click sets the power. Instantly the meter reverses
direction and a mark moves towards a yellow-colored zone. Depending on the
characteristics of your punter or place kicker, the zone is large or small.
If you tap the button a third time while the mark is on the zone you're almost
guaranteed of a good kick. If you press early or late the ball will hook or
slice. The new interface makes the kicking game less automatic and reflects
the college kicking game well. If your kicker's yellow zone is narrow you may
change your playcalling logic and go for it on fourth down in your territory
rather than risk a blown kick.
Some other nagging issues include injuries, or lack thereof. The injury
flag is either on or off. I have yet to experience an injury to one of my
players that lasted more than a quarter. Some of the injuries sound serious
yet players are out for only a couple of plays. Furthermore, the play calling
is limited. I've been spoiled by the incredible diversity of plays in Madden,
and NCAA lacks that. Each team has a certain style of play, and you can use
another team's playbook. The lack of a create a play feature restricts you
even more. Furthermore, fans of the create a school feature of previous
versions will be disappointed by its absence.
It won't take gamers long to figure out the most annoying feature in NCAA 2002.
I've been playing almost all my games on All-American. I tried and failed at
the much tougher Heisman level (much better secondary play at that level), and
the All-American setting was a nice fit for me. During play, I can only
describe the scoring AI as suspect. If you take a lead into the fourth quarter
the CPU will make spectacular catches, break tackles, or gain first downs on
key penalties on you. If you're on offense, a holding or clipping call will
bring back a first down (and when you look for evidence on the replay, it's not
there) or your back will fumble the ball away. And fumbles are nearly one-sided. While the CPU fumbles it seems to recover the ball most of the time.
When you fumble, you players can't seem to get a handle on the ball. Now the
Rice Owls are not a football powerhouse, but when I'm leading by 14 late in the
fourth and the CPU completes passes into triple and quadruple coverage, I start
to suspect a rat. I don't mind getting beat, but I do mind feeling cheated
when I play a game. I'm sure EA wanted to keep the scores close to offer a
challenge, but keep it real. Blowouts happen. Upsets happen. Tight games
happen. We don't want every game to be close. It's completely unrealistic and
blemishes an otherwise great game.
Replay Value : 80
The key to the replay value of NCAA Football 2002 is your tolerance to the
CPU's cheating tendencies. There are times where I want to chuck the
controller at the television and rip the game from the disc tray. The cheating
really can be that annoying. Yet there are other times where the CPU plays
an almost straight game and the value improves. You'll experience both types
if you play in the extensive dynasty mode. In fact, the dynasty mode of NCAA
2002 is among the best in sports games. The off-season recruiting is extremely
gratifying and is a game within a game. Even though the game is deficient in
AI running and poor AI and human secondary play, there is enough depth and
good quality for me to take my Owls through multiple seasons.
Overall : 83
NCAA Football 2002 is the best college football game on the PS2. Of course,
when your only competition is the laughable Gamebreaker, EA could have released
Atari 2600 football and graded better than the 989 product. But EA has put
forth a good effort with NCAA 2002. There are certainly some flaws that still
need to be worked out. The secondary play continues to be a sore point, and
the CPU still can't run the ball effectively with the default AI settings. On
the positive side, the human-controlled running game is as good if not better
than NFL2K1 on the Dreamcast. The AI's clock management has been tweaked for
the better. The PA announcer misses game calls, but the three-man booth of
Corso, Nessler, and Herbstreit is refreshing. Finally, the graphics are a
little cleaner when compared to Madden with more convincing player models and
animations. While it's not the best in the NCAA series, it's certainly a