'NCAA Football 13' retools recruiting

I think I’ve spent more time in my life recruiting players to attend virtual college than I ever spent in actual class.

But that’s the time-suck that is EA Sports’ “NCAA Football” franchise, a series of games I’ve been obsessing over since Bill Walsh was featured in the title.

And with the improvements made to Dynasty mode this year, it looks like I’ll be once again spending late nights pitching polygonal players on why they should play for Coach J-Rob and my ever-evolving Stanford Cardinal.

New this year are dynamic pitch grades, enabling you to improve certain playing-style marks through your actions on the field and the stats you put up. For example, if I’m playing as Stanford and I’m trying to recruit a scrambling quarterback, but he is wary of coming to Palo Alto because my system currently favors more of a pocket passer, I can start rolling out and running more with my current QB (or one of his faster backups), and it will adjust my school’s overall grade in that area, showing the recruit that I’m willing to adjust my system to fit his needs. If I’m trying to recruit a more traditional pocket passer, the more yards I accumulate by throwing from the pocket, the better my school will look to the recruit, with all grades adjusting throughout the season depending on how your team is actually playing, not just the grade it was automatically assigned based on history.

As your team continues to take shape with year-after-year of recruiting, you’ll see your school’s grades continue to evolve. Categories like Championship Contender take into account not only the current players on your roster, but who you already have signed in recruiting. So if you sign the top quarterback in the country, you’ll see your numbers shoot up for the next few years, as you’ll be expected to contend for the title as long as he is in your lineup. You can then use the numbers your new quarterback generated to help you recruit better players along the line and at wide receiver.

And like I said, these grades update on both a week-to-week and year-by-year basis, depending on your success (or lack there of) both on and off the field.

One of the other really great additions to “NCAA Football 13” is when you’re pitching recruits, a lot of the under-the-hood motivations that were never quite clear in years past, are now accessible on-screen, helping explain more about what a kid really means when he says his number one goal is television exposure, and what you can offer him to help make that happen. Now it says right up front that your school needs to have so many nationally televised games in order to reach a certain level, where a lot of these grades in years past were simply tied to BCS ranking, and really didn’t incorporate the correct logic when it came to specific subject matters that a recruit was interested in.

For players looking at their pro potential, for instance, the game now generates mock drafts, including under classmen, every year, and shows how many first-round picks your school is turning out, and how many guys your program is sending to the NFL each year. That number is calculated, giving your school more points for first rounders than later round guys. And if you have a hot-shot running back looking to bounce to the pros early, you now have the ability to pitch them promises in order to get them to stay in school one more year, giving them statistical goals, or even promising that they’ll be picked higher in a future draft if they come back and have one more sensational season.

In terms of the recruiting board, you’ll not only be able to scout players, you’ll actually be able to see their true ratings. So you might see a three-star guy on the board, but when you scout him, that three star player also has 90 speed, so he might be better for your team than the three-star rating gives him credit for. You’ll also find athletes who excel at three positions, maybe a guy who played running back, quarterback, and defensive back in high school who you’re trying to add to your team as a wishbone runner or punt returner. The choice is yours once you sign him to your squad.

Aside from recruiting, the other major difference gamers will instantly recognize when it comes to Dynasty mode is all of the new ESPN integration. Rece Davis joins the announcing crew throughout the season, with studio updates of games from across the country. So while Stanford is destroying UCLA at home, I can find out what’s happening in the USC-Oregon game taking place at the same time. These updates show the score and stats, with Davis providing a few details from each game, but unfortunately there isn’t video or even images to match the verbal highlights, which is a major disappointment in my mind. How is it that “NFL 2K5” could have a highlight show almost ten years ago, but “NCAA 13” gives us only audio and scores? Crazy.

Aside from Davis, the ESPN BottomLine ticker has been added, including priority score alerts, final alerts, and even upset alerts to keep you up to date on all the week’s action as you play. I actually prefer the ticker to the studio updates, as it doesn’t take me out of my game to give a score (not to mention anger me about the lack of video), while providing all the information I need to see how theses scores will affect my Dynasty as I try to play Stanford to the top of the Pac-12 for the next 30 seasons.

Besides, what’s another 30 seasons when you’ve already played through a few hundred?

Maybe I’ll retire when I reach 1,000.

Yeah, right.