At the top level, it captures the nervous, up-tempo pace of play. That's not just the no-huddle offence, though the much-improved flexibility to make adjustments at the line allows drives that flow up and down the field with hardly a break. It also comes from how the players move. Quarterbacks tuck and lean as they try to get around the end on an option; halfbacks stumble and slither through tacklers, and sometimes guys just plain get beat; they're not pros.
If the game looks like the real college deal, it's because the game plays that way. This year the team specific playbooks go deep, creating a strong sense of character for each squad. My Texas Tech Raiders, for instance, have literally one set in one standard formation that's not a shotgun, but they've got more variations on it than need to be counted. And within them, the plays reflect their style to a T. There's every crossing pattern imaginable, a myriad of screens both to the backs and receivers, and the odd running play. With all that going on at the line, one of my favorite features is the dynamic blocking diagramming that shows who is taking which assignment as players shift around pre-snap. Granted, they might still miss the block, but at least I have an idea who to try and play off of after the snap.
While it doesn't make the game, it doesn't hurt that the resulting highlights show off some of the best presentation work EA Sports has done to date. They don't miss a step. The ESPN integration and graphics package for the game look like a broadcast. Little details like getting the camera angle for replays just-so go yard. They also bring in the school sprit element with touches like running over to celebrate with the mascot after scoring a big touchdown. There's actually so much right that the lack of a halftime show stood out to me. But if the alternative was a clunky patchwork of faked highlights and a robotic voiceover, EA made the right call to omit it entirely.
Sure, some old gremlins remain. Out of position defenders still make the occasional, impossible whirling-blind interception. The kicking game is unreliable, especially punting where the hang of the ball and distance it goes never syncs properly with the coverage. And count on playing every game waiting for the next big thing to happen; like all EA Sports football games crazy turnovers, especially fumbles, happen all too often. There's almost no such thing as a routine win. But none of that has stopped me from coming back for more, and for the first time it's to play more college football, not get ready for Madden.