The History of NCAA Football



Learn more about the history of the NCAA Football franchise, from Bill Walsh College Football to NCAA Football 14.

It’s nearly time to carve the turkey, eat a bunch of food and then drift off into tryptophan-induced dreams. And you know what pairs perfectly with cranberry sauce and leftover stuffing? A little college football video game action. Here’s a look back at the EA SPORTS college football franchise, with some of the biggest games and greatest features. And if this trip down memory lane has you feeling nostalgic, now’s the perfect time to grab NCAA Football 14 as part of a sweet Black Friday deal.



Our version of “The Granddaddy of Them All,” Bill Walsh College Football introduced collegiate pigskin to the SNES, Sega Genesis and more. The franchise didn’t yet have a license, so there were no real teams or schools featured. The playbook consisted of 68 plays, including the trusty wishbone offense.

There was no Dynasty or Career mode to speak of, but fans could play in tournaments with either modern teams or one of the 24 all-time greatest college teams included on the cartridge. It may have been a humble beginning, but it’s the game that started it all.


The first game in the franchise to feature all Division 1-A teams (there were 108 at the time), College Football USA 96 was also the first to showcase what would eventually become the BCS bowl games (Orange, Sugar, Fiesta and Rose).

Did you know this was the only time the Southwestern Conference ever appeared in a video game? The league disbanded in 1996 and its member schools joined other conferences, so this was the one and only time you could see Baylor, Arkansas, Texas and more as members of the SWC.


This edition marked the introduction of Dynasty Mode, the most popular gameplay mode in franchise history.

The mode had humble beginnings, letting you fill roster spots of graduating players with incoming freshman, but that was about all the old consoles could handle. Modern features like scouting and recruiting battles wouldn’t come along until much further down the road, but this was the year fans stopped playing one-off games with their favorite team and started imagining what it would be like to be an all-powerful head coach for their favored school.


Though Dynasty may be the most popular gameplay mode in the NCAA Football franchise, this was the first year hardcore fans were able to continue their college experience in the NFL by exporting players to Madden NFL 99.

This was a breakthrough feature, as it continued the story you’d built up around these players into their pro careers. Suddenly you could take your Heisman-winning QB to the big leagues and try and turn him into a NFL Hall-of-Famer. Fans took to writing their own narratives for their players, from the blue-chip stud who translated his collegiate success into NFL fame, to the scrappy rags-to-riches player who went to a no-name college, set himself apart and burst onto the NFL scene as an unknown rookie.

NCAA FOOTBALL 2003 (2004)

The year of the rival, the 2004 edition of the game boasted 23 different rivalry trophies, as well as awards like the Heisman Trophy, Coach of the Year and more. Suddenly the Michigan vs. Minnesota game took on added relevance when you knew the winner would be taking home the Little Brown Jug. You even got a virtual trophy room to show off your hardware, giving you a method to show off your football prowess anytime a buddy started talking about how good he was at the game.


NCAA Football 06 marked one of the most significant gameplay leaps in franchise history, as Dynasty mode received a complete overhaul and a career mode was introduced for the first time. Coaches could now scout and recruit potential players, adding an entirely new dynamic as schools jockeyed with other schools for the nation’s top players.

Those looking for a Career-style experience could jump into Race for the Heisman, where on-field performance determined ratings and the end goal was to snag the Heisman Trophy before graduating. The game also marked a bit of a break from tradition, as instead of showcasing a recent college graduate/NFL rookie on the cover, the game showcased Michigan’s Desmond Howard and his classic “Heisman Pose.”


The year of the “Quarterback Quiz,” wherein after throwing an interception the offensive coordinator would show you three defensive schemes and ask you to guess which one the defense employed. The feature was designed to help teach users how to read coverages and better understand what the defense was doing to stop them.

This edition also included the ability for QBs to be overwhelmed by crowd noise, losing their composure and causing receiver routes to show up as squiggly lines or button prompts to appear as question marks. This was also the first year you could ice the kicker, which was the bane of many an online player’s existence.


This was your first chance to let your creativity run wild with TeamBuilder, which allowed you to  build your own fictional university, uniforms, stadium, roster and more.

NCAA Football 10 also introduced Road to Glory, with Erin Andrews narrating your path from unknown freshman to college phenom.


Heisman Challenge mode let you take control of some of the best to ever play the game in the hopes of recreating and surpassing their Heisman-winning performances.

For the first time in franchise history you could play as real-life stars like Barry Sanders, Hershel Walker, Desmond Howard and more with ridiculous ratings and nearly unstoppable skills. Making these guys even more explosive was the introduction of Reaction Time, which slowed down time allowing you to spot holes at the line or evade pursuing defenders. This was also the only time in franchise history with dual cover athletes, as Heisman winners Barry Sanders and Robert Griffin III shared a spot on the game’s box.


This year’s title brought two major new features with the introduction of physics-based movement and tackling via the Infinity Engine and the introduction of Ultimate Team. By bringing over the revolutionary physics engine powering the Madden NFL franchise the college game reached new heights of realism, and Ultimate Team set out to finally answer the question of what happens when you put some of the greatest college football players of all time together on one squad.

This edition also introduced Coach Skills to Dynasty mode, adding a bit of RPG-like flair to the growth and evolution of your coach.


Most appearances by school: Michigan (3), USC (3), Florida (2), Texas (2)

Appearances by position: Quarterbacks (12), running backs/fullbacks (5), wide receivers (4), defensive players (2), mascots (1)


With the college football season drawing to a close there’s no better time to get back out there and make one more push for virtual glory. Grab a copy of NCAA Football 14 and make your alma mater proud!


NCAA Football 14 is now available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Buy your copy today and #PLAYTRUE.

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