'NCAA 10': On the Road to Glory

ESPN's Erin Andrews tracks your progress along "NCAA Football 10's" Road to Glory. 

Jonny Ballgame steps onto the field for the first game of the California high school state championship tournament. It's the quarterback's time to impress the college scouts as he tries to earn scholarship offers from some of the top schools in the nation. Ballgame has four rounds to put his rifle arm on display and bring home the title. And, oh yeah, Erin Andrews and an ESPN crew are there to document his every move.

Talk about pressure. But that's what "NCAA Football 10's" new Road to Glory feature is all about. It's a re-imagination of the old Campus Legend mode, adding in some great new (and much-needed) presentation thanks to Andrews and her highlight show where she pops up from time to time to talk about your career.

But first things first. My created quarterback, Mr. Jonny Ballgame himself, needs to actually get a scholarship before I can continue. After creating my player (choose options like gloves, wrist bands, helmet type and even pads to help differentiate yourself), it's off to the first round of the playoffs where my school is taking on some team from La Verne.

You can sim through the high school playoffs, but I actually think this is the most important time to play because depending on how well you do, that is going to determine what type of recruit rating you receive, and the higher your recruit rating, the better the schools that will pursue you.

What's great about the mode is you only play the downs you are actually in the game for, and the rest, you can sim or watch on a play-by-play basis. Obviously, as a quarterback, I'm taking all the snaps, but it's nice to skip through the defensive part of the game as it makes things much faster (and I can even sim through the handoffs if I don't feel like watching the running plays).

It's funny because even though I'm trying to lead my team to a state championship, I want to get the biggest passing numbers possible so I can sign to a better school. So when it's first-and-goal from the 2, I know I should be handing the ball off to the star running back who just got us here with a 70-yard sprint down the sidelines, but I want to throw the touchdown pass so it looks good on my stats. Not sure if there are any leadership attribute points that drop because of selfishness, but I decide after watching my running back take another handoff 80 yards for a score later in the game that I should audible to passes and look out for number one, or in this case the quarterback with 13 on his jersey in honor of my favorite player of all time, Dan Marino.

In my first game, Ballgame completes 16 of 21 passes for 294 yards, four touchdowns and 55 yards rushing. Scouts in attendance include North Carolina, Texas Tech, Nevada, Oregon State, Florida Atlantic and Kent State, and as of right now, the scouts rate my performance as a three-star (out of five) recruit.

Hopefully I'll earn some more stars (and a few better scouts) at my next game.

In my second game, I'm even better, completing 19 of 21 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns. This time around Boise State, Georgia Tech, Southern Miss, USF, Troy and Idaho came to check me out, and now I am a four-star recruit. The star system must need more games to register a perfect score because I don't see how I can play much better.

Then again, at the beginning of the third game, my team couldn't play any worse. My defense gives up 20 points in the first half while my receivers come down with a serious case of dropitis. Heading into the fourth quarter, my team is down 17, but Ballgame throws two touchdown passes in the last two minutes, then watches my star halfback rumble for a last-second score to win the game. My stats aren't as pretty as before (222 yards, two touchdowns), but the scouts love the way we came back and won, awarding me five stars. And the big-time scouts were finally in attendance. USC, Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State, Kansas State and Stanford all had their eyes on Jonny Ballgame.

All that's left of my high school career is the state championship, and the atmosphere is really ramped up for this game. We're no longer playing under the Friday night lights in front of a few hundred people. The championship game is packed with about 50,000 screaming fans, and before the game you're told not to disappoint on the biggest stage because the scouts that are in attendance for this one are from the top schools in the country. Time to show the football world what Jonny Ballgame is made of.

Judging by the first drive, he's made of touchdowns, as I lead my team on an 80-yard opening drive for the score. On the second possession, however, I am running the option, but when I pitch the ball, it's actually caught out of midair by a linebacker who runs it back for a touchdown. I don't remember seeing that too often in past games, where a defensive player grabs the actual pitch out of the air. It was pretty awesome, even if my team paid the price. Another animation I've seen a lot of (both in this mode and the regular game) when it comes to playing quarterback is the dead-duck fluttering throw you launch while getting hit. Now more than ever, if there's contact with a defender while you throw the ball, you're going to see it fly high into the air and up for grabs. Sometimes it still makes it to your receiver and just looks ugly, but other times I've had these ducks actually fall short and get caught by an underneath receiver (or picked off). These bad throws really help add to the realism of the game, in my opinion, as it makes pressuring the quarterback even more meaningful.

But even with a few mistakes like the bad option pitch and a couple of dead ducks, I'm able to lead my team to the state title with a 45-14 win. Ballgame throws for 336 yards, four touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in the victory, and the schools in attendance are a who's who of top teams: Oklahoma, Florida State, Florida, Alabama and USC.

Next up is signing day, when I am offered scholarships to just about every major school. Only thing left to consider is playing time. If I sign with a school like USC or Florida, I will start out as third-string. Only two schools in the top 20 offer me the starting job, Georgia and Alabama, so I decide to follow in the footsteps of Ken Stabler, Bart Starr and of course, Joe Namath, and sign with the sixth-ranked team in the game, Alabama.

Unfortunately, my 13 jersey is not available, so I make the switch to 6 and enroll in school. This is followed by the first Erin Andrews report, talking about my high school career, how I just won the state championship, and that I've decided to leave the state to sign with Alabama. They show a cool highlight package of my top plays from the tournament, then Erin gets Kirk Herbstreit on the phone and he calls me the best recruit in the class. The man obviously knows what he's talking about.

Next thing I know, I'm shown my dorm room. My shelves are filled, not with books but with pictures of myself playing ball (with a few books thrown in just to remind you that it is a college football game). From the dorm you can watch your own highlights, edit your appearance, and even check the online leaderboards of other gamers playing through the mode to see where your player stacks up. Pretty cool idea.

From here, there are a series of events that take place in your life. You go to practice during the day, but then at night you have options like go to the library, hit the gym, study your playbook or visit the trainer. I hit the gym and get increases in my strength and speed, but my awareness drops by a couple of points. The next night, when I go to the library, I'm actually given a +0.1 award to my GPA, +1 to awareness and +1 to stamina. Looks like you need a good mix of hitting the books and the gym if you want to be a complete player (or if you want to skip this process entirely, you can simulate right up to the game).

Unfortunately, my first game for the Crimson Tide is a little shaky as I complete 14 of 20 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown, but my team loses to Virginia Tech 28-23. There was some questionable coaching at the end of the game, though, as I needed a touchdown to win with two minutes left (and no timeouts), inside the 20. It was fourth and an inch and my coach decided to kick a field goal (something you can't change because you're not calling the plays, the coach is, and you can only audible when you're on the field). Anyway, my kicker missed the field goal, but I don't know what coach would make that call. We should have gone for the win. Instead we start the season 0-1.

As I continue through my first season, Alabama ends up going 9-3 and plays 12-0 Florida for the SEC championship in December. The game is close throughout, but with Alabama down 27-22, Coach calls for three straight running plays inside the red zone with under two minutes left. I audible out to a pass on third down, fire a perfect strike, but the receiver comes down out of bounds in the end zone. On fourth down, the coach calls for curls, but my pass is deflected, then intercepted to give Florida the win. I'm crushed. The game was voted an ESPN Instant Classic, but I'd rather have the SEC championship instead.

As a consolation, Alabama is invited to play in the Cotton Bowl against 12-1 Oklahoma.

And Alabama is actually able to pull off a 30-20 upset thanks to Jonny Ballgame's best game of the season as I end my first year with a bang, throwing four touchdown passes in the win.

Florida ends the season with a perfect 14-0 record to win the BCS Championship while my Alabama Crimson Tide finish the year ranked 13th (and I was one play away from beating Florida, too).

As my sophomore season is about to begin, Erin Andrews is back to talk about the upcoming season while showing some cool highlights from my biggest games so far. Once again, she gets Kirk Herbstreit on the phone to talk about my player and he says: "I wouldn't be surprised if this kid was a household name by the end of this year." Thanks, Kirk.

I still have three more years to bring home at least one Heisman and at least one national championship, but I really am having a lot of fun with this mode in the meantime.

EA did a really great job of increasing the presentation level while at the same time making the gameplay both fast and fun, which is something a mode like this needs.

Is Jonny Ballgame the next Joe Namath? Who knows, but it's awesome giving J.B. his own virtual shot at glory (even if it doesn't come with a polygonal fur coat for when he sits on the bench).

Now that would be a highlight worth keeping.