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Florida Gators Countdown to Kickoff 2021, No. 22: Madden shows Florida’s video game future

For the first time in eight years, you can now play with the Gators against other players. And more is coming.

College football fans and gamers haven’t been able to use college football teams to play against each other in an EA Sports title since NCAA Football 14.

But now they — we — can in Madden NFL 22.

A new, limited-time event in Madden’s Superstar KO mode allows players to take control of 10 teams and their mixed rosters of current NFL player alumni and “Campus Legends,” EA Sports announced and released Tuesday morning.

The promotion is meant to draft on the buzz for the upcoming college football season, and will feature a rematch of the legendary 2005 Rose Bowl on the virtual gridiron, with former USC quarterback — and NCAA Football cover athlete — Matt Leinart taking on former Texas star — and Madden cover athlete — Vince Young in a game to be livestreamed Tuesday evening.

Alas, while Campus Legends brings college teams — and their uniforms — out of the single-player, story-based modes, Longshot and Face of the Franchise, for the first time since those modes reintroduced college teams to Madden several years ago, it’s still a fairly limited experience. Teams face off in a faux 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship Game that is played at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, but there’s no commentary that reflects that stage, and what is there for teams and players is basically proper nouns — “Florida” or “Tebow,” for example — that have long been in the Madden audio database being used during plays.

A fully-fledged Dynasty Mode, this is not.

But this mode points to the way forward for EA Sports when it comes to reincorporating college teams and the college football and reinforces the idea that all-time legends are likely to be part of any College Football release.

The former is just common sense: EA’s got a huge, already-built audience for football video games in its Madden player base, and there was always been a lot of overlap between that one and the NCAA player base. EA will — and should — be cross-promoting until College Football finally releases, whether that’s in 2023 or 2024 or even further down the road.

The latter, though, is a reminder that legends of the Saturdays of the fall are going to be integral to College Football — to include their use in an Ultimate Team game mode that is assuredly going to be part of that game.

That’s going to be received differently by different players, as there are many who love the team-building and card-collecting Ultimate Team modes — which have proven to be cash cows for EA and other publishers across all sports in recent years — and others who revile them, considering them “pay-to-win” money pits tantamount to gambling and charging that they siphon resources away from other possible development priorities.

I’m generally in the former camp when it comes to Ultimate Team, and I think that the power of nostalgia is going to be even stronger when it comes to the College Football version of it. My first drive featured Brandon Spikes meeting Earl Campbell in the hole just like he once did Knowshon Moreno and Jevon Kearse collapsing the pocket on Vince Young for a safety.

You think college football fans might want to recreate things like that?

The lack of a college football video game has left a significant space in the summer and fall (...and winter and spring) for many who both follow the sport and love gaming. But that space is going to be filled by a full-fledged game before too long — and you can bet that EA Sports is going to do things in the interim to whet the appetite.