NCAA Football 2003 Review

Speaking of playing through a season, the game's season mode has everything you'd expect from a college football game.  Conference match-ups, rivalry games for traditional trophies like the brown jug, the old oaken bucket, and the Stanford axe, top 25 polls, bowl match-ups, the national championship game, and the Heisman - it's all there.  Each season plays out differently, but the results are always realistic.  The same elite schools typically vie for the top half of the ratings, with the next tier up for grabs.  While the game captures the feel of the college season and how all the variables in a season can turn a contender into an also-ran, you won't see teams at the shallow end of the talent pool making a run for the title (or even cracking the top 25).

To really enjoy the game in all it's glory, though, you'll need to play it in dynasty mode.  Dynasty mode puts you into the shoes of the head coach of the school of your choice.  As a newly hired coach, you must face your first season with a roster full of the recruits signed by the last coach.  After your first season, you'll need to say goodbye to your seniors (but not farewell if you own Madden NFL 2003, since you can export players to that game) and scout for the top talent to fill the gaps in your roster.  You'll need to manage your limited recruiting resources to make sure that you sign enough quality players to stay competitive.  After recruiting season ends, you can further fine tune your roster by cutting or red-shirting players, and by setting your depth charts.  You can continue to play season after season, attempting to build a dynasty, but if you underperform, don't expect to have your contract renewed.  In a nice touch for players that want to coach a team through the years without the pressure of recruiting and coaches' contracts, NCAA Football 2003 lets you play in dynasty mode with auto-recruiting and without contracts.

While you are playing a game, NCAA Football 2003 will award you with points for good plays in its Coach's Challenge.  The amount of points awarded is based on the difficulty of the feat, so you'll get a lot more points for having a running back rush for 200 yards than you do for making a sack.  Accumulated points can be traded in to buy over 200 special pennants which unlock game features: historic teams, new stadiums, team boosts, cheats, and mascot teams.

Team boost pennants are tied to a particular team, and can played (i.e. traded in) when you are playing a game with that team.  The team boost will allow you to boost the ratings of a group of position players for the current game.

The cheats can be used to turn the game into more of an arcade experience since in addition to providing boosts such as making it easier to catch passes, they can change the rules of the game.  Five downs to make a first, forward passes from anywhere on the field, and other such cheats can quickly turn a game into a wild free-for-all.

Mascot teams are teams comprised of ... team mascots.  It is actually pretty amusing to watch 22 costumed characters go head to head in a full contact sport.  You owe it to yourself to play at least one game with Syracuse University's Otto the Orange mascot.  Watching a big orange with stubby, shoulderless arms come tearing at you through a hole in your line is truly a sight to behold.