Two new features dominate 'NCAA 10'

"NCAA Football 10"

"NCAA Football 10" has the best new feature of any sports game this year. It's called Team Builder, and whether or not you even own the game, you can help the NCAA community by creating your own school right from your PC, from the jerseys to the team name to the roster, and you can do it all even before the game ships to stores.

Sounds almost unbelievable, right? But it's "NCAA Football 10's" reality as the game introduces a new create-a-team feature that is unprecedented in virtual sports.

Essentially, Team Builder is a cyber-sized football factory, where gamers have total control over the creation of their new schools. And when it comes to creative control over your teams, like I said, the options are unprecedented.

-- ESPN Video Games columnist
Jon Robinson

Essentially, Team Builder is a cyber-sized football factory, where gamers have total control over the creation of their new schools. Utilizing a simple Web editor on the EA Sports site, gamers will be able to create new teams that can then be downloaded by anyone with a copy of "NCAA Football 10," and the teams can be downloaded cross-platform, so it doesn't matter if it's a die-hard PS3 guy who created the 1AA school you've been looking for and you only own a 360. Once the team is in the system, it can be downloaded by anyone.

And when it comes to creative control over your teams, like I said, the options are unprecedented.

Gamers start with a simple editor that enables the entry of everything from school name and nickname to location, coach's name, stadium name, school colors, prestige and even school era (current, historic or future). So if you're a USC fan who wants to go back and create a squad of all-time greats, the choice is yours. Or you can look into the future and create USC 2020, even adding new uniforms and a futuristic logo.

But you're not limited to creating just college teams, as you're really only limited by your imagination on what teams you want to add to the mix. You can add your high school, your Pop Warner team, or just make up a team based off your favorite TV show (the Dharma Initiative vs. The Others would be quite the rivalry). And since you can add logos from existing team libraries (even teams that aren't in the PS3 or 360 version like Appalachian State), as well as upload any 256x256 PNG image for either your primary or secondary logo, I can already imagine the variety of historic teams and freaky franchises people are going to create.

Once your school and logos are set, it's time to move on to stadium design where you'll be able to select the architecture of any existing stadium in the game, then customize everything from the field (how about some blue turf?) to the midfield logo.

It's the next function, though, that really helps put Team Builder over the top, and that's the uniform editor.

Starting from the head and working our way down, there are 24 styles of helmets in the game and you can adjust everything from the number of stripes (0-3) to the base color to the color of the chin straps. You can add your school logo on the helmets, or take the logo away and go with numbers. To top it off, gamers will be able to create both primary and secondary helmets.

In terms of jerseys, gamers have the freedom to create four for each school, including home and away as well as alternate home and away. There are over 70 styles to choose from and you can even customize your logo placement as well as adjust everything from the font and color to collar and cuff styles. And the options don't end there as you will also be able to customize pant style, including base color and stripes as well as logo placement.

And the cool thing is, once you create the various uniforms for your team, you can actually mix and match any of the combinations from your four uniforms before you play a game. So if you want your camouflage helmet with a yellow jersey, white pants, black socks, and yellow shoes, it might be ugly and obnoxious, but the choice is yours.

Once the look of your team has been established, then it's time to head to the roster page. You can adjust recruiting pitches, offensive and defensive styles, and even your fan base, then you select a template for the type of roster you would like to start with, like Florida or Auburn. From there, you can actually go to the roster page and edit whatever you want, including player ratings.

Best part is, if you and 11 friends all make teams, you can import all 12 schools into a custom conference and play your online Dynasty with all created schools.

And since EA Sports plans to open up the Team Builder online starting in June, I expect thousands of custom teams to already be created before the game even ships to stores mid-July.

But that's not all, as EA Sports also plans another major online feature to "NCAA Football 10" called Season Showdown.

What Season Showdown will attempt to do is create a year-long competition to determine a virtual National Champion. How will this work? Well, it's a bit complicated (maybe even too complicated), but gamers will select a school when they turn on their game for the first time, and then everything you do from that point on will earn credits for that school that will be tallied online. It doesn't even matter if you're playing as that team or not, you're earning credits by the way you play, including sportsmanship, so if you're up by 30 points in an online game and you kneel down to run out the clock, you'll earn bonus points, but if you throw a bomb to run up the score, you'll actually lose the amount of credits that could've been added to your team's weekly total.

Credits can be earned throughout the week in a variety of ways and the points will be split up into five different categories -- Web trivia, Vs. CPU (any game against the computer), Online Showdown (head-to-head against your team's real opponent for the week), Online vs. Nation (against any opponent), and Web Pick 'Em (popularity vote online). And since the trivia game and Web Pick 'Em have nothing to do with "NCAA Football 10" skill, fans who don't even own the game can log onto EA Sports World and affect the weekly competition by thriving in the trivia challenge and voting for their favorite schools to help add points to the total.

So basically, if Stanford is playing Cal one week (both in real life and Season Showdown) and the Stanford gamers are scoring way more points than the Cal gamers throughout the week and during head-to-head games online, that doesn't necessarily mean that Stanford will win the week in Season Showdown as if the Cal students flood EA Sports World and dominate the trivia portion, their school might still be able to win out the week. In addition, using Web Pick 'Em, fans can log into the site everyday and vote up to five times either for their school or against another school to affect what's basically going to turn into a free-for-all popularity contest that EA hopes will spawn Facebook pages where passionate fans will try to get as many people to vote for their schools or against their rivals as possible to help their team win the week.

But this is also where things like sportsmanship and school loyalty will come into play as teams will earn extra credit throughout the week based on gamer skill, the strategy they use, whether or not they won as the underdog or even as the team they are representing in the feature, and if the game was determined to be an ESPN Classic. And because of these bonus points, even if you lose your game but you played with sportsmanship or showed skill on the passing game, you will still earn points that will go towards your school's total at the end of the week.

And since the point totals are actually split into the five categories, the winner each week is determined by the school that carries at least three of the five.

Throughout the season, you can then check back to EA Sports World to keep track of each team's schedule and ranking, and if you see your team down by a huge number of points in a specific category for the week, you can go in and try to make up the difference by answering more trivia questions or challenging other gamers online who represent your scheduled opponent. You can also try to undermine rivals, so if you're playing as UCLA, every week you can vote against USC to make sure they lose the Pick 'Em vote, thereby influencing not only your own ranking, but the ranking of your most hated school.

And you thought you spent a lot of time on "NCAA Football 09." Now with all of the Web applications of "NCAA 10," you don't even need to be anywhere near your 360 to still be in the game, and from first look, this could be a very good thing.