this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
ncaa: the game
It might suck, though. Michigan Sports Center has been scouring Internet message boards for information on NCAA 09 and reports back with some problems:
To incorporate "wide open gameplay," the defenses in NCAA 09 reportedly have been incredibly dumbed down. By this, I mean that it is far too hard to play defense when lining up against the computer. When you are on defense, most people have reported that the opposing computer quarterback are way too accurate. The norm is only five or so incompletions a game according to some, and that is only because of dropped passes. On top of that, the computer's offensive line supposedly is way too dominant, even against the best teams in the game. With an extremely accurate QB and barely any pass rush, the results aren't good.
There are also widespread difficulties with editing the rosters (which I couldn't care less about, especially since you can download a whole roster for free from inside the EA Locker). Bill Abner's continued to post impressions at his blog and remains pleased -- "if I had to return the game and then decide whether or not to buy it, I'd be in line just like the rest of you, forking over my $60 and change" -- despite some annoyances; I trust him over some of the inveterate whiners that populate video game message boards. (Not that they don't have a point, but sometimes it's a bit much.) Abner does futz with the sliders excessively, so the issues above may be real on All American with default sliders but obviated if you're willing to tweak.
Law and Toomer. In the Thursday post rebutting Michael Rosenberg's column on Rich Rodriguez, I made passing reference to the distance between former Michigan stars Ty Law and Amani Toomer and Lloyd Carr. A couple folks have asked for background. Law left for the NFL after his junior year when his family filed for bankruptcy, and Carr did not take it well:
"He didn't care for me leaving, and I wasn't welcomed back for a while," said Law of Carr, who was Michigan's defensive coordinator but replaced Gary Moeller as head coach for what would have been Law's senior season.
Law says Carr "actually told me -- and that's what I feed on until this day -- that I would never see the third round. And that kind of hurt me. I know I thought I was one of the better players here on the team."
The animosity lingers; see the sidebar of that Page 2 article for further detail.
Toomer's issues with Carr are vaguer but just as real:
Did you hear from any of your former U-M teammates or Lloyd Carr after the win? No. The last time I heard a word from Lloyd was when I was playing in a (Michigan) game; it was my last play of my senior year. I caught a touchdown from Brian Griese, and I was walking off the field and Lloyd looks at me, looks at Griese, looks at me again, and goes, "Good throw, Brian." And that's the last thing he ever said in my direction.
Did you have a good relationship with Carr while at U-M? I thought we did, but I guess we didn't. So I don't know. I wasn't too upset to see the whole regime change.
Le Dominator is French for The Dominator. Pacioretty hype from Montreal's prospect camp continues to come fast and furious:
While Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens' director of recruitment, was reluctant to talk about individual players, he did venture the opinion that Pacioretty is "head and shoulders" above his peers.
... et chaque ...
Take this to the bank, people: Max Pacioretty will be with the big club when the 2009-'10 season begins. And he's going to be a good one.
But where will he be playing this fall? Probably Yost:
Pacioretty has played one season at the University of Michigan. It's unlikely he'll stay there for a full four years, but he is expected to return in September.
Knock on wood and all that. If he does return, plan on it being a Jack-Johnson-like victory lap, hopefully one just as freakin' awesome as JMFJ's senior year.
Cross is boss. Wolverine Historian has compiled the 2001 Illinois game, a comprehensive beating applied with some panache. I had totally forgotten what I think were back-to-back trick plays that got Michigan its first touchdown, and Todd Howard is subject to the most spectacular facemask penalty I've ever seen. In full:
Another day, another jab. The Ann Arbor News takes the opportunity presented by the "Rodriquez" settlement to launch another broadside at the athletic department. This was my favorite part:
Michigan used to be unique amid a national trend that's seen programs at other schools become less about student athletes and much more about the money that marquee sports can generate.
This isn't just orthogonally wrong, it's the exact opposite of right. The first sentence in Don Canham's Wikipedia article is "he became nationally-renowned for his ability to market and sell products bearing the name or logo of the school." Canham himself:
The only thing I did know was that were going to draw a hell of a lot more people than we ever did. Up until then, schools did not advertise. I almost got fired when I flew a helicopter advertising Michigan football over the World Series (in Detroit) in 1968. That was considered undignified. We ran ads in magazines and all the Detroit suburban newspapers. Our big gimmick was that we mailed ticket applications - that first year we mailed 400,000 ticket applications and sold coffee cups and things like that. We paid for the ads with the coffee cups. The premiums we came up with paid for it all.
The only thing unique about Michigan's place in the college football money grab was its status as first-mover. The rest of it is a complaint seemingly from another universe: Michigan's athletic department leadership has "little if any accountability or openness." The dastardly bastards in charge finished third in the Director's Cup, saw all their teams easily clear the NCAA's APR hurdles, and ran a massive surplus doing it. They must be held accountable!
By any reasonable standard the Michigan athletic department is one of the best in the country. It supports a massive number of student-athletes, does extraordinarily well in sports across the board, and does so without draining a dime from the university's general fund. Since the Ed Martin affair over a decade ago there hasn't been even the barest hint of NCAA problems. For this it gets harsher coverage from its local media than any program in the country.* I'm not asking for mindless homerism, but how about a shred of perspective?
The Ann Arbor News lists the phone numbers and email addresses for Martin, Coleman, and the Regents, exhorting you to "send a message." I suggest you send a different message to an organization that evidently has no interest in covering Michigan fairly by calling 734-994-6989. That message: "cancel my subscription."
*(I assume. No one else has been the target of a week-long investigative series that turned up virtually nothing, right? Washington might have a case given the Seattle Times' recent exhumation of the Neuheisel era at UW, but that actually seemed targeted at UCLA. If the Columbus Dispatch tried this they'd be under seige. Probably literally.)
Etc.: The NYT preview of Michigan approvingly references MGoBlog but contains some glaring errors ("Michigan did not land one quarterback recruit in the 2008 class"); Jim Brandstatter snaps back at Rosenberg; Michigan favored by seven against Utah.
- Hope. Surely, this is the year they add something bleeding obvious like simming through the end of blowouts or online dynasty. And there's no way they'll have every other pass dropped or intercepted again.
- Suspicion. Feature X sounds pretty stupid and time-consuming. They probably could have spent their time better if their weren't directed by EA market-droids. And they do this every year.
- Joy. THEY FIXED IT. I LOVE IT.
- Annoyance. You know, I don't think the computer should never miss a field goal. And they call timeouts weird. And the CPU quarterback throws more interceptions than completions. I'm tired of winning 99-0.
- Rage. AAAAAAARGH NOT ANOTHER SIX INTERCEPTION GAME. Maybe I'll bump it up to Heis- AAAAAAARGH I'M LOSING TO ARMY BY 60. [flings controller at cat]
Lather, rinse, and repeat until about May, at which point "hope" starts anew. It would be cute if it didn't cost 50 bucks.
Via Dubious Quality comes welcome news for those uncertain about whether Tiburon's latest version of NCAA is more than a roster update and some stupid-marketer-driven unrealistic features*: Gameshark editor Bill Abner has latched onto an early copy of the game and is blogging his first impressions a week and a half before the game's official release date. Abner is a seasoned video game review vet and on his blog he's thankfully blunt. He's also an Ohio State fan. Can't win 'em all.
Some highlights follow.
First game against Michigan State ends 31-3:
I can already tell that playing with a good team on AA lvl (default) isn't gonna fly. Not just due to the INTs but Ohio State is just friggin loaded. I feel like I can lob it to Robiskie almost at will. Keep in mind I have *never* liked NCAA on default settings so this is by no means a shock or something to take too seriously. It's the first half of one game on settings we all know to be a bit easy out of the box. ...
But -- I really, really hope we are not stuck, again, with the CPU INT problem. If sliders do not fix this, it will yet again by a bust as a solo game and it will depend on online dynasty mode to save it. Normally I'd say "Eh, it's just one half" but with how NCAA 08 turned out in this regard, the red flag is up.
Heisman -- previously a realm of controller-throwing frustration -- seems better:
And best of all -- at the half it's 13-10 OSU and that was the only USC INT. USC QB is I think 8/13 at the half. Beanie has 70 yards on the ground. AND -- Heisman feels extremely playable this year. If you are an NCAA vet--trust me. Start on Heisman. Don't even mess with AA. Well, if you are playing with a good team at least. Even so, it plays SO much better.
But to me it seems clear at least thus far that it's w/o a doubt a Heisman thing. [the lack of 16 CPU interceptions -ed] The game just flat plays better on this level and look..I'm killing Iowa so it's not like the AI is going to whip you at this level mercilessly.
The first truly annoying issue to rear its head:
Kick coverage is 100% ass. Sorry to keep repeating this--but this needs fixed. Maybe longer punts? You are going to average 30 yards per kick return in this game.
...but they've accurately modeled Jay Paterno!
But late in he game PSU had several 4th down plays when they were down 21-13. On 3rd and 5 with 2:12 left they called off tackle and lost a yard -- 4th and 6 ...same play. No gain. Kinda odd. Then the next possession they had 4th and 10 and threw a 5 yard square out and the WR caught the pass out of bounds. The HBs and FBs still have NO Idea where the sideline is on flare patterns. This is an OLD problem and that is still in the game. This sealed the game for me for the most part and was kinda anti climatic.
The interception issue gets largely cleared up and Abner gets waxed by FSU as Tulane, plays an every-yard-counts defensive struggle with FSU as OSU along with some other games. The end result:
I have not even opened up the recruiting model yet and I'll try to take a look at it this weekend. But right now -- based on the still somewhat small sample size of games -- NCAA is a green light. I have not had this much fun playing NCAA since the 2004 version. Usually by this time we had discovered either the crazy INTs (NCAA 2008), the huge number of dropped passes (NCAA 2005..), terrible secondary AI (NCAA 2007..) -- something that ruins the experience, for me at least. So far, this is a really, really fun game and I cannot WAIT to start our Online Dynasty.
This is Stage II of a typical year with NCAA: "I Love It, They Fixed Everything." HOWEVA, further gameplay...
That said, there are things that the more I play the more I think might be real issues that are not just going to go away. The CPU run game isn't very good. I know I am using OSU but even in the games where I used lesser teams the AI struggles UNLESS I refrain from switching players. If I stick to playing my chosen player for the entire play the CPU runs a lot better. But if I switch...it's lights out. He can't get away and most HBs average about 2.5 a carry. Note: I have yet to mess much with the CPU Run and RBlock sliders.
The Ghost Juke cost MSU the win in the 31-30 game. This one is really annoying. MSU was returning a kickoff and found a seam and then raced to the sidelines. He was home free -- gone. All he had to do was outrun OSU backup LB Brian Rolle but instead of just running for daylight he juked no one in particular and allowed Rolle to catch him. I have seen the Ghost Juke about 5 times now. Not good.
I also don't see much variety in the AI offensive playcalling. Deep passes are *rare*. I see them , but maybe 1 per game tops and it is not uncommon to see zero. (By deep I mean 20+ yards in the air.) A lot of dinks, dunks, and 7 yard passes over the middle. Because of this it is hard to tell a difference between playing against, say, San Diego State and Michigan State. The plays all feel similar it's just that MSU is better at running them.
...often reveals issues that range from minor to infuriating. Still, Abner's upshot even after these annoyances reveal themselves: "I still feel it's the best version on the field (I have not touched recruiting or checked the sim engine or the ranking AI) since NCAA 04, which was in my mind the high point of the series." That + online dynasty might be worth a look even if you're severely jaundiced towards EA and their exclusive licenses.
*(okay, there is one no-BS must-have feature: online dynasty is a huge freaking deal and might cause me to not only spring for the game but for a 360.)
I don't have the game. I decided against it for now for the sake of the blog. But my friend Anthony does. He also has a very large TV. Sometimes I envy Anthony. Anyway, anyone wondering about making the purchase or not, his review follows.
The unofficial beginning of each college football season has become the release of EA Sports' annual NCAA Football offering. There was more excitement than usual brewing for this year's edition, partly because last year's 360 offering felt incomplete in many ways. The last gen '07 versions were good, but not too different than what's been coming down the pipe since 2001. Word is that the last-gen versions of '08 are completely unchanged, save roster updates, and the 360 version is the only way to go this year. The demo released late last week on XBox live played very well, much better than last year's, so I was eager to get the game. As I stood in line with a large group of fellow degenerates, the excitement was palpable.
The backstory: I'm a simulation and realism freak. I only play online with friends, and I usually get through a couple dynasty seasons annually. I'm a software engineer by trade, so details stick out to me on some things that others wouldn't normally notice or care about. Here are my opinions:
The game plays great. Much better than last year's 360 and PS2 versions, in every way. The button responses are crisp, the physice are solid (although the ball doesn't bounce much), and everything is smoooooooth. There are occasional graphics hitches and minor collision issues, but nothing that impacts gameplay in the 6 or 7 games I have played so far.
The user interface is nearly flawless. Its easy and fast to do what I want to do when not in the game.
The playcalling is different than last gen, but easy to follow and navigate. I feel that I am less apt to accrue a delay of game penalty with the new interface. There are also a boatload of new plays, and there are motions built into some plays, which is a nice touch. There are also new trick plays, which had inexplicably been absent since the PS1 days (EA â€“ please bring back custom playbooks from the PS1 grave, as well. Its 2007 for Christ's sake.)
One of the things lacking for a long time that had great affect on the realism of the game was the poor implementation of lineplay, both offensively and defensively. EA has taken great strides with this and the result is a much more rewarding experience. Nothing seems scripted. If you blitz well, you'll be rewarded instead of having your players get clogged at the line. If you set up your blockers well, you'll have the extra time to make the pass or find a hole. This ultimately makes the game more playable and addictive. One thing I was interested to see, especially since it was mentioned in the demo, is zone blocking. So far, I have not seen any plays that use it, so I will have to dig deeper.
[I still feel somewhat unfulfilled when attempting to create a pass rush with a defense end or tackle. There are now "finesse" and "power" moves you can use to get around blockers but I must be using them wrong because mostly they do nothing. I would like some sort of pass rush minigame... some sort of defensive minigame at all. Still feel like a passenger on D a lot. -ed]
The passing game has improved. No longer do linebackers make plays on balls they shouldn't, but at the same time, the defensive backs make much better breaks on the ball. Reads are more important than ever, but they are more true than ever before. The passing game is where the beefy AI really shines, both offensively and defensively. If you make a bad throw, without your feet set, you will pay, even on the default difficulty.
[Seconded. Finding actual holes in zone coverage and then throwing guys the ball without Luigi linebackers is nice. -ed]
Pre-snap activities, like shifts and audibles, are plentiful. The only problem is that there are so many adjustments one could make, its often hard to make all your adjustments before the snap, especially defensively. All the extracurriculars just further enhance the experience, the same way a few extra shots make Sparty girls look better. [ba-dum ching! -ed]
The kicking game hasn't changed much, but there was never really anything wrong with it. I haven't played enough to see if blocking kicks was actually a possibility, like last year's PS2 version.
[Yes. So far the stick-up-stick-down kicking thing seems like a different way to push a button. One note: we did see an onside kick recovered by the kicking team. I can't remember that ever happening before. -ed]
Campus legend is MOTS, except you get to play out your senior year high school state tournament, which determines your rankings instead of the "mini-camp" of old. I found myself engrossed in the tournament, and that is only the beginning of the game. A nice bonus: your state title game is at a large stadium, relevant to your area. Mine was at Michigan Stadium. You also get to skip through all the plays that you are not on the field for. The rest of the campus legend plays out the same as in previous versions, as far as I could tell. Its a definite change in perspective of the game, in a good way.
The dynasty mode's big change is in recruiting. Much more depth has been added to the recruiting mode, scheduling visits, making promises to recruits in the off-season, and a lot more depth to the 'pitches' you must make to the kids you are trying to get. Its much more meticulous than in the past, and if you aren't going to sim through recruiting, you'll be spending 30 minutes on average between each dynasty game. You get a certain amount of time each week to devote to the recruiting trail, and you must spend it wisely. I did notice that if you play with Ohio State, instead of a time budget, you are given a 'salary cap'. Nice touch.
I did notice that changing positions in the off season no longer cripples your players ratings, like the previous versions did. I swapped a RT to LT and saw minimal drop in ratings. Thats how it should be. Most other aspects of the Dynasty mode are tweaked for the better.
Also, the 'Super Sim' feature is a Godsend. It lets you sim plays, series, etc. Very useful if you are dropping the hammer on some Sun Belt team and you don't want to spend the entire 2nd half handing off to your 59 rating 5th string running back. This feature has been in baseball games for a long time, and it increases playability exponentially.
Things I didn't like (General EA Sloppiness)
- No alternate jerseys [I think these may be sold on XBox live eventually, which is worse than just leaving them out of the game, IMO. -ed]
- Still missing stadiums (lots of mid-majors)
Sidenote: Brian cracked on me for this, but I know that there are a lot of folks out there that like to take "Nobody State" to multiple national titles and get invited to a major conference. Those folks should not be subjected to playing half their games in generic stadiums! There is no excuse for this. Modeling stadiums is not difficult (I've done it), the fact there are some missing is corner cutting, nothing more. EA â€“ Hire some more people to get this kind of stuff in the game.
- No 1-AA teams. Bad timing for Michigan fans, we have to pound '1-AA Southeast' instead of ASU.
- No create-a-team [Seriously? Who ever used that to do anything other than create the Hyyyyarrrr State Pirates? -ed]
- No custom playbooks, and limited team-specific playbooks.
- TERRIBLE ROSTERS
Freaking Brandon Graham is a 99. Yes, a 99. He is the 3rd best player in the ENTIRE GAME. Antonio Bass is still in the game! Adrian Arrington is not! Morgan Trent is an 89! Half the players' eligibility is wrong, redshirt sophs are listed as true juniors, et
c. Michigan was the only team I scrutinized, I'm sure there are atrocities in all the rosters. This would be OK if EA hadn't ripped the ability to edit a players class (was in last years 360 version). EA needs to 'do work' and get the rosters right. [The removal of something completely basic like editing a players eligibility is really bizarre. That sort of thing should take, like, one developer a few hours. -ed]
- No on-field referee â€“ this affects the clock starting after a first down, a little detail that bugged me.
- Only one playable camera angle. It's a good angle, but still, if I didn't have a widescreen TV, it wouldn't show enough field. [This is also weird. Camera positioning is dead simple. -ed]
- The off-season for the dynasty lacks the 'spring game' that the last-gen versions have. Player ratings are increased on a random basis, much like the old NCAA games.
None of these are deal-breakers, but most of the missing features were included back in the PS1 versions in the late 90's. Why take them out? Will they be back before Notre Dame wins a bowl game? [Hey, that's my line. -ed] Only time will tell.
Overall, the game looks, feels, and plays like a 'next-gen' game for the first time, and it is a huge step up for the series. Its crisp, realistic, and addictive. In conclusion, this game is a must-buy for any sports fan. Goodbye sunlight! See you on the first Saturday in the fall!
So you see my dilemma, right? I can get the game and subject you guys to Penn State Golden Gopher previews that talk about how Joe Paterno got fired and was replaced by Jim Kewster, light bends coach for the Menver Loncos or I can not spend the next month and a half driving Idaho to a national championship. Sigh.
Update: Michigan Sports Center also has impressions. Same general tenor.
I might be excommunicated from the church of college football for this startling revelation, but I am sick and tired of EA's NCAA football franchise. Every year they add inane or useless features aimed at 14 year olds: ridiculous suspensions in franchise mode, impact players, momentum and their career mode. Each of these "features" save the inane but thankfully irrelevant career/Heisman/whatever mode acts as an active detriment to the game's realism. This would be irritating but acceptable if EA had given you the option of turning off the feature that turns any trip to Iowa a 60-7 loss (don't ask... the horror... the horror), but they don't even do this. While they're busy inserting these inane features into the game they release games in which receivers drop 20% of the balls that hit themselves in the hands, the inside running game is useless, or the passing game is completely broken.
This year is no different. The features they're pitching only promise to heighten the silliness:
Impact players, aka ballers with high ratings, will be able to trigger "lead by example" events that impact each player's morale. Score a touchdown with an impact player, a chain-reaction of good feelings spread to the rest of the team, which in turn, boosts each player's performance.
Awesome! Now the randomly selected impact players and the totally unrealistic momentum system are one and the same!
EA is now a company run by its marketing arm. No longer actually concerned with making quality games as long as they know that their franchises will sell, they go years without implementing even the simplest features.
Even so, I might get it. I hate myself. But one of those simple features I've been waiting on for years has been implemented:
Campus Legend makes great use of the new Super Sim feature that allows you to skip single plays or to the next change of possession. You can still watch every play from the sideline through the eyes of your legend, but you can also skip ahead to the next time he takes the field. Super Sim is available in every game, which will come in handy during Dynasty mode when you want to get your second stringers on the field to mop up.
Thank God. And how long did that take? Like... ten minutes? No longer will I score 77 on Northwestern in a perpetual state of glassy-eyed boredom. I will score 42, sim the rest of the game, and bump the difficulty to Heisman just in time for a disastrous trip to Kinnick.
(Initial link via EDSBS.)
Shocking revelations about our head coach's past! It would all be so very Arkansas if it wasn't so very Lloyd:
"Lloyd went from West Virginia to Michigan," the retired Nehlen said from his Florida winter home. "He wasn't with us long, about six weeks at the most, I'd say."
Controversy? Uh, not so much:
"Bo called, and he wants you back there." Carr protested that he had joined Nehlen because "I wanted to stick with you." Nehlen told Carr, "This is Bo. When Bo wants you, you go."
Beisball es caliente. Michigan's impressive 12-game winstreak was a bit hollow, since they've been playing the likes of Oakland and Eastern Michigan of late and had their four games against conference co-favorite Minnesota cancelled on account of Hoth-worthy weather, but is no longer after a four-game weekend sweep of fellow co-favorite Ohio State. Michigan outscored the Buckeyes 41-14 over the four games, to which we at MGoBlog say "ha ha!" before scurrying into our Bunker of Denial so that no one can proffer the obvious and terribly effective response. Michigan is now an impressive 22-6, 8-0 in conference, and has a good shot at an at-large bid to the NCAAs if they finish out the season. Coach Rich Maloney has previously set the at-large threshold at 40 wins, though that was before Michigan lost the Minnesota series. To hit 40 before the Big Ten tourney they'd have to win 2/3rds of their remaining games; since the Big Ten is essentially a mid-major in baseball that's probably doable.
Michigan's home for the next six games, with a Wednesday doubleheader against EMU and a weekend series versus Purdue all at the Fish. Wednesday might be sort of crappy and rainy, but the weekend should be decent weather.
(Side note: in this era of year-round athletic and academic competition, doesn't it seem silly that the college season starts in February and ends in May? Shifting it summer-ward a month would really help out northern sides.)