The biggest breakthrough for your running game in NCAA Football 14 may not be smarter line blocking, the return of a speed burst, or the introduction of real-time physics. It may be as simple as a new camera angle, available today in the game's demo. You should see it. You should play with it.
It's the "coordinator" angle—akin to the "all-22" view only recently made available by the NFL, though not for live broadcasts. Meaning no disrespect to this game's upgrades elsewhere, but coordinator cam is likely what will make me a better runner in NCAA 14, though other changes will certainly help anyone get a few more yards in a series that for a long time has struggled with down-at-first-contact gameplay.
"Coordinator" makes players almost FIFA-small from the base camera view. With the exception of receivers in lonesome-end formations, you can see everybody, cutting down on the pre-snap zoom outs to see what the defensive backs are doing. After the handoff or pass completion, the game sensibly zooms in on the ball carrier. Even from this distance, holes in the line are much more apparent, and steering your runner through them is a lot cleaner. I teed up the demo with Ohio State and Michigan primarily to run the ball every down and judge, again, the claim of improved offensive line play. More on that in a moment.
What I found, after switching the camera angle, was a better sense of where to take the play and how to follow my blocks. Offensive linemen do, as advertised, block better—especially the pulling guards—even if they still release their blocks a little early. That can be addressed later with a slider, if necessary. Still, blockers coming out of the backfield, or particularly receivers against a cornerback cannot be counted on. But with a better look at my route and a more informed police escort up front, I'll still take it.
Speed burst for ballcarriers returns to the game, this time on your right trigger, and you have a finite supply of it each play (which should diminish as the game lengthens and your player tires.) You can't simply lay on it from the handoff and get results, even on runs outside the tackles. Seeing where the defender commits or is picked up by a blocker is critical to using the skill.
There were many madcap dashes for the corner where I just barely squeezed by. Thanks to the inclusion of the Infinity Engine—last year's physics model for Madden NFL—if you can get a shoulder past your defender, you've got a good shot at shedding the tackle, or at least stumbling for more yards. This is much better than previous editions, where despite new animation after new animation after new animation you were still sucked into a tackle once the defense hit your collision box.
NCAA Football 14 should also cope with the modern college football gameplan better than it has in the past. From the spread option, left and right shoulder buttons will either pitch the ball or shovel pass if you're a quarterback with two runners alongside in the backfield. This has enormous potential for fun, especially when the defense has the pitch option covered and is descending on the quarterback, and he hucks a shovel pass to a runner free for an eight yard gain. I'm not innately familiar with the spread's reads and backfield options, and if you aren't, either more time will be needed in the skills trainer, or in practice mode. But in the hands of a capable runner, I can see it being as unstoppable as the triple option was in the early days of this franchise.
This is just a demo (one that released, ahem, kinda late today) and as such I've only finished the skills drill and one game. On offense, it definitely plays different from last year's edition. Three-minute quarters may not give a complete picture of how all facets of your offense will run once the new game arrives July 9. Clock management kind of steps in and hurries things along, for both sides. But the full-contact physics, the smarter blocking (by those who wear numbers 60 to 79, anyway), funky tricks like the shovel pass and, most importantly, the coordinator camera, definitely breathe new life into this enjoyable series.