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College football is coming back

I can't believe it's finally actually happening. EA Sports is finally releasing another college football game. After 10 years of having nothing but Madden, fans of video game football will finally have another big-budget, AAA football game to play. Yeah, sure, it's still from EA -- it's not like this is a new 2k football game or anything -- but it's something.

EA has released 2 trailers for EA Sports College Football 25. The first one was just a teaser, with a spokesperson talking about how excited they are to be back, and how much they love college football, how they've listened to feedback, and how committed they supposedly are to making the best game possible. I didn't talk about that initial trailer because there wasn't much to say about it. It was just a bunch of promises from a company that has not done anything in the past 20 years to make their promises mean anything.

The first teaser for EA Sports College Football did not show anything of substance.

Basically, my reaction to that initial teaser, and its promise to deliver "the game this sport deserves" was "Uh huh, sure. I'll believe it when I see it."

Well, now there is an actual gameplay trailer that shows us something of substance. And it's actually pretty good. Honestly, this trailer is better than I expected it to be. Much to my surprise, it did give me some nostalgic goosebumps.

The trailer opens with some pre-game hype cutscenes of different teams coming out of their respective locker room or tunnel and performing some of their trademark rituals. Notre Dame players tapping the "Play like a champion today" sign at the bottom of the stairs. Boston College players rubbing the head of a bronze eagle. Florida players doing the same with a statue of a gator head. And so forth.

Then, it transitioned to narration from ESPN broadcast announcer Chris Fowler talking about college football finally being back. It's probably a clip from the commentary that plays in the opening-week matches in every season in the game, but in this trailer it has the double meaning of referring to that 10-year hiatus in which we had no collage football video games.

Both big schools and smaller schools have unique intros and rituals.

Then, there's more clips of pre-game hype ceremonies, mascots, and so forth, with some classic Guns 'N' Roses playing in the background. There's even some smaller schools being highlighted, like Wyoming from the Mountain West, which shows that EA isn't just focusing on the big, playoff contender schools from Power 5 conferences. But they're also giving some attention to the smaller, Group of 5 conference schools too. As a UNLV fan and alumni, that makes me happy to see our conference being highlighted in the trailer.

Then the music transitions to Penn State's marching band performing some fanfare music. This is where the trailer really impressed me. It looks like EA might actually deliver when it comes to the college football atmosphere that was always so rich and thick in its old NCAA Football games. This looks like a direct continuation of what NCAA Football 14 was doing in the presentation department, and that is a very good sign.

The gameplay trailer was actually better than I expected.

Up until now, this trailer has been great. It's basically exactly what I think we all wanted to see. College football atmosphere and pageantry. Crowds, mascots, trophies, animals, fireworks, and marching bands. Big schools, little schools, and schools in between. New commentary team. Excellent graphics and lighting. It's everything we could have asked for.

And then the trailer literally kicks off and starts to show gameplay, and ... well ... as feared (and expected), it basically just looks like Madden.

Player movement, juke moves, and so forth, all look like Madden. That isn't all bad. We aren't talking about Madden 16 or Madden 18 here. EA Sports has made decent strides in terms of player animation and interactions in the past few years. In fact, this trailer has a few moments that show potential improvements on Madden 24's gameplay.

There's a subtle animation of a kick returner breaking free and looking back at the pursuing coverage players. I don't recall ever having seen this animation in Madden (but it's possible it's there, and I just missed it). This animation could indicate that players on the field have more awareness of what is going on around them, and that their awareness may contribute towards how they behave on field. The trailer also highlights some higher passing arcs that could potentially cut down on excessive knock-downs. Of course, we also see some college-specific rules highlighted in the trailer. Some receivers make catches with one foot in-bounds.

Will players have more awareness of what's going on around them?

There's also a focus on trick plays. We see Syracuse running what looks like a reverse, and Army executes a end around to a wingback. This could be an indication that plays like this will be more common, and hopefully more viable. Maybe defenses will actually fall for the occasional play fake or trick play? Maybe the old NCAA Football 14 mechanic of setting up a play by calling similar plays is coming back?

Not just "college Madden"?

Unfortunately, this particular trailer doesn't show or say anything about Dynasty Mode. It also doesn't show anything related to Ultimate Team. So we still have no idea how deep and robust the Dynasty Mode will be, or if the focus of design will still be on Ultimate Team. There is also a gameplay and feature overview on EA Sports' website.

The feature overview does say that player ratings can now change mid-game as a result of their play on the field, and that players can suffer "wear and tear" that could impact their performance or require that they be pulled from the game in order to avoid a major injury. I'm not sure about the ratings system, but the injury mechanic could be a good, long-overdue mechanic.

There's also a suggestion that quarterbacks need to read the defense prior to the snap and make decisions. It's unclear just how dynamic or game-changing this might be. It could just be a re-branding of the existing audible and hot route mechanics with little-to-no meaningful change. But I would definitely like to see CPU teams spend more time reading the opponent at the line of scrimmage, and for pre-snap bluffs to actually have an impact. I've long been frustrated by the fact that lining up my defense in a cover 3 shell pre-snap, only to blitz and roll into a coverage 2 shell doesn't confuse CPU quarterbacks. Such plays are always a liability due to the ridiculously fast reaction time of CPU QBs and online players. I'd still like to see some kind of variation of the QB Vision cone come back, which would actually require the player or CPU QB to go through actual progressions, but I doubt that's going to happen any time soon.

I'm hoping that both offenses and defenses will be more susceptible to fakes and trick plays.

In the end, even if EA Sports College Football ends up playing basically the same as Madden, it will, at the very least, have the unique collegiate look and feel that we all loved from the old NCAA Football games. With licensed college football returning, the potential relaunch of Maximum Football, VR football games, and a handful of innovative indie titles, we might finally be leaving behind the football video gaming dark ages, and entering a long-awaited renaissance.

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