Over the years, the option in EA Sports’ NCAA Football series has become the New York Yankees of football gaming. Either you love it or you hate it, and none-the-less, it is devilishly difficult to defeat.
I have always been of the pro-option school of thought, but have several close friends who would just as soon go second in a spirited game of ro-sham-bo as run an option offense. Still, the difference in opinion cannot change the fact that the option is a huge part of the college game. Its explosive potential and volatile unpredictability can swing a game in either direction.
Over the past couple of seasons, EA has been fine-tuning the latest breed of option offense, the Spread Option. While I have long enjoyed the old-school option schemes out of the Wishbone, Power-I, and Double-Wing formations, NCAA 08’s playbook design for variations of the Spread Option offense are easily the most in-depth to date. After months of experience in NCAA 08, I can honestly say that the Spread Option offense is the most complete scheme in any football game, EVER. It is also the most fun.
Spread Option 101
Okay, it’s pretty obvious that if you are reading this article, you know full well what the spread option is. Still, here’s a give a quick overview, just for frame of reference.
Traditional option schemes (out of tight sets) are designed to force a defense to commit to one of two or three ball-carriers. Depending on the specific scheme run, traditional options are normally meant to either hasten the process of reaching the corner, or create an inside seam due to over pursuit. There are also variations that thrive on misdirection, such as Belly Option and Counter Option schemes.
The Spread Option operates under the same basic principles, but does so in a different manner. Rather than a pure QB/RB focus, the Spread Option offense often utilizes receivers as ball-carriers as well. Its main focus is exploiting open space (created by the Shotgun Spread formations) to make plays. Quickness and agility are paramount.
Scheming the Spread Option: Picking the Talent
Obviously, certain teams are built for this kind of offense, while others are most definitely not. If you’re rolling with a big, statuesque pocket-passer, simply picking a Spread Option playbook like that of West Virginia or Illinois (Shameless plug: ROSE BOWL, BABY!!) will simply will not due. In exhibition or online modes, I would highly advise picking a team who uses the scheme in real life. If you are neck-deep within a dynasty, but would like to give the Spread Option a whirl, recruit speed. Lots of it. A scrambling QB is obviously the centerpiece, but also load up on slashing HB’s and smaller, quicker WR’s. Again, quickness is key.
Scheming the Spread Option: Exploit Similar Looks & Actions
Earlier, I mentioned that the Spread Option is quite possibly the most in depth scheme within any football game. This is because there are so many different plays that compliment each other. This goes well beyond the typical run/play-action combo that we have been pimping for years. The Spread Option scheme in 08 has a HUGE collection of plays that look similar from the onset, but are deliciously deceptive.
For instance, take a basic Shot Gun Spread formation (4-wide). There will inevitably be an off-tackle handoff play. There will also a clever little play called QB Choice, a counter option play, in which the QB can fake the off-tackle and sneak around the opposite end. Some other possibilities (depending on playbook) could be QB/Slot Triple Option (my personal favorite), and a variety of play-action passes. This type of diversity is present throughout the playbook.
Scheming the Spread Option: Use Packages
We’ve all had our gripes about the game’s static packages, the lack of custom packages, and the lack of formation subs. However, the packages within Spread Option playbooks are pretty effective.
For instance, using Dual HB’s in the backfield in place of the normal HB/FB combo out of Shotgun, adds a spice to the Triple Option or screen plays. Or moving your HB or #1 WR to the slot creates an elevated threat level of the QB/Slot option play. Let’s also not forget that any of these package moves create fantastic decoy looks for standard plays, especially when facing a human opponent.
The Bottom Line
The Spread Option Scheme in NCAA 08 is the most complete and diverse offensive system that we have seen in football gaming to date. Without being overly complex, this system allows us to exploit opponents using a variety of different plays out of identical looks and actions. It is a system that is not only exceptionally entertaining to run, but finally gives us that Offensive Coordinator feel that we have been longing for.
As a final little soliloquy, in Chris’s “Key Areas of Improvement for Madden: Part I,” he highlights the playbooks as a crucial problem area for Madden 08. While I completely agree with his assessment, the Spread Option Schemes in NCAA 08 give us hope. An at least partial team-specific system that plays so perfectly off of itself, shows us the potential of EA’s engine. Let’s hope that this little gem in NCAA 08 becomes the groundwork for future playbook expansion across the board.