NCAA Football 08 fires up the crowds

Here's the big secret: Madden NFL may be the biggest dog in the football kennel, but every gamer we know who's really into football games? They prefer NCAA Football. And while publisher Electronic Arts has yet to pull the curtain back on all that this year's NFL title has to offer, from what we've seen of NCAA Football 08, it's going to be a big year for the university boys.

This year is all about adjustments. There's no big, huge feature addition to crow about, but the combination of tweaks and refinements are designed to improve upon the game's already stellar reputation. For example, Impact players- you know, the future first-round NFL draft picks who have the power to take over a whole game- can now affect the entire team. If your superstar makes an inspired play or two, he'll lead by example and the whole team will get psyched up and play harder and better.

Even the non-stars can get in on the action- now, even non-impact players can find themselves "in the zone", which gives them a temporary stat boost. Moreover, both impact players and regular guys can find their stats rising permanently if they play well over several games.

This gradual stat-boosting process figures heavily into this season's story mode, Campus Legend. Your career begins during your school's high-school playoffs (you create the school yourself; the game isn't recreating the nation's ten gajillion high schools just yet). If your team does poorly, you may have to attend a small college. If you can carry your team though four rounds and win the high school championship, every university in the nation will be pounding on your door with a scholarship.

No matter how well you do, you're not a big-time superstar the moment you hit campus. You're a freshman who needs to earn your right to start by busting your can, making the most of it when the coach puts you in for mop-up duty, and slowly chipping away until your stats are higher than the starter's and you pass him up on the coach's depth chart. You'll be able to sim through the parts of games in which you're riding the virtual bench, but it's enough like real life to make you want to work harder and prove yourself.