Keep telling yourself: It’s just a game

It’s all wrapped up in cellophane.

It comes packaged to fit in your hands as your own little universe — your own NCAA world to tinker and toy with. You are the coach, the athletic director, the fan, the player, the recruiter — everyone from the moms to the girlfriends as you design your own dynasty.

It’s life you can practically sculpt yourself.

NCAA Football ’06, designed and created by videogame juggernaut EA Sports, was released Tuesday.

As with every year, the video game is watched and carefully debated by the seasonal fans who annually buy it just a few months before the real season starts.

Real player numbers, physical features and stats are used, but names are spared because of collegiate rules prohibiting players from accepting sponsorships — though looking at the pictures for players like USF quarterback Pat Julmiste, one would question the motive behind EA Sports’ models; players look like they belong in a high-security penitentiary.

Or, perhaps they were just being mean (Julmiste’s picture looks like he downed a bottle of Ripped Fuel).

Which leaves us with Bulls fans who choose to create their very own football team, featuring returning standout players like running back Andre Hall, wide receiver Johnny Peyton and outside linebacker Stephen Nicholas.

Those mentioned are posed as a new feature in this year’s version of the game, impact players. According to the game’s packaging, “Give the Pigskin to your game-changing performers as they break games wide open with big plays and highlight-reel moves.”

As with many hand-held universes, they seem lifelike; too real to be real.

Close-ups of players show wrinkles, tattoos and facial hair, even though the coach might have a dress code.

Though for those faithful who love their teams — and, believe it or not, there are those who dearly love the eight-year-old football team — it’s just too realistic.

Players get rated in this game, and whether he may be overrated — UCF’s running back, Dontavius Wilcox, is ranked an 82, while Julmiste is an 80 — is another argument. But you can play as Julmiste or Hall or Nicholas and go through the entire lifelike first season in the Big East.

I simulated a season as USF recently, and sorry to say it Bulls nation, but USF turned out a disappointing 3-8 season.

Hall rushed for less than he did last year at 1,069 yards and 9 TDs.

Julmiste broke any coveted record held by former Bulls quarterback Marquel Blackwell by passing for 2,884 yards — only two more than the previous record — and threw 23 TD passes, which is only three more than what Blackwell had.

Pittsburgh ran away with the Big East at 11-1.

Was it foreshadowing for those who will watch this season more intently than people from Georgia watch Jeff Foxworthy? Or was it just too realistic?

Then again … it’s just a video game.