Review: ‘NCAA Football 12’ offers improvements

Saturdays in the fall just wouldn’t be Saturdays without college football on TV, but fortunately for us video-game system owners there’s an alternative to watching a Tuesday-night battle between a pair of unranked teams.

EA Sports is back with “NCAA Football 12” ($59.99, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3), which keeps last year’s improved core game play intact while improving the presentation, animations and its Road to Glory and Dynasty modes.

EA’s NCAA titles have for years admirably captured the atmosphere of Saturday afternoons with loud crowds, mascots and fight songs, but the series has lagged behind its John Madden big brother in terms of graphics, lighting and textures.

“NCAA Football 12” changes that.

The game introduces team-specific pregame festivities, improves the look of stadiums’ tens of thousands of fans and finally gives fans Madden-style textured field surfaces.

Hits, tackles and catches have been thoroughly revamped and are now better timed, fluid and more realistic. That said, you’ll still see the occasional glitch that prompts a “What the heck was that?” or worse.

Penalties in games are few and far between, which doesn’t seem to be the case in the college contests I watch on TV.

Perhaps it’s odd that the biggest draw of a college football game is playing high school games, but the revamped Road to Glory is the game’s most enjoyable mode.

Create a character, pick a main position (and possibly another slot on the opposite side of the ball) and set out to gain the attention of college scouts. Your character won’t begin his career as an instant star; he’ll have to earn his way up the high school depth chart into a top college recruit.

As your character performs well, he’ll earn the interest of some modest colleges. Keep it up and more numerous and higher profile schools will develop an interest. Rank the schools to customize your path into a sought-after scholarship.

Once you land a spot on a college roster, you’ll have to earn your new coach’s trust. Running backs doing their job will get put in for more crucial situations. Quarterbacks who impress the coach will get a little more flexibility to call audibles or select a receiver hot route.

One neat thing about this mode is that you’ll be able to import your character into EA’s upcoming “Madden NFL 12,” meaning a career can now span high school, college and the pros.

Who knows? Maybe EA next year will release “High School Football 13” to allow you to build your character in middle school or city recreation leagues with the goal of earning a high-school roster spot.

Dynasty mode allows players to pick a college team and play multiple seasons with the obvious goal of winning a national championship. Seniors graduate, so you’re tasked with having to recruit high school students each year so you rebuild and can keep your school playing at a competitive level. As in real life, winning attracts winners.

If you’re power hungry, give the Coaching Carousel a try. It allows you to start as a small school coordinator and work your way up the college coaching ranks into a top Division I head coaching job. You’ll be faced with decisions such as whether to sign a one-year contract with plans to move on to bigger and better things, or sign a three-year deal to enjoy some stability so you can build up your reputation.

Sorry, there’s no coach’s press conference mode to go into a Nick Saban-styled media rant.

“NCAA Football 12” does what an annual sports title should do: It keeps the good and sprinkles in enough improvements to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Three-and-a-half stars out of four.