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Sometimes a step backward can be rewarding.

After my Xbox 360 fell to the “red ring of death,” I was forced to tackle “NCAA Football 08” on the PlayStation 2. I wasn’t expecting to be dazzled, but was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the graphics weren’t up to next-gen standards, but the fun sure was.

The game is the latest edition of Electronic Arts’ college football franchise that allows gamers to coach their favorite college teams.

In the dynasty mode, you’re the coach recruiting up-and-coming high school athletes, developing plays, tinkering with the depth chart and putting the team through drills.

It all leads up to game days, when your team takes the field against another school. Game play is pretty standard for the football genre — pick a play and hit the right button and wiggle the right stick at the right time. However, it all flows smoothly, and the players and fields look pretty good for a game on an older system.

As usual in sports franchises, a few new options have been added to allow gamers to step a little closer to the action. For example, if you don’t follow through on promises made to recruits, they might transfer to another school. You also can save a year of a player’s eligibility by designating him a medical red shirt if he’s injured early in the season. On the playing field, new options permit additional control over players’ actions. Finally, if you or your players do well, there’s now a “My Shrine” area that acts as a personal hall of fame.

The game also shines in other modes. Quick games are always great when friends drop by — especially since play can be customized to make it less demanding for the uninitiated. In addition, the “campus legend” mode allows you to re-construct yourself as a 7-foot, 300-pound quarterback who must weave his way through campus life as well as oncoming defenders.

Just for the record: EA Sports recently ran a simulation of the college football season using “NCAA Football 08.” USC ended up beating Oklahoma in the championship game, 28-23. Last year, “07” accurately predicted Florida would take the title, so stay tuned.

Platforms: Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3. More info:www.easports.com/ncaa08/

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