Many college football fans, myself included, will be without a new edition to their favorite video game this year. EA Sports decided it will not make another game in its NCAA Football franchise in 2014 since the NCAA didn't renew its licensing contract contract with the company, and the results of lawsuits over in-game player likeness usage remain uncertain.
However, I thought last year's game could still be put to good use by simulating Northwestern's 2014 season. There were some roadblocks and complications along the way, but the results are still worth a look.
I started a dynasty mode in NCAA Football 14 as Northwestern and moved teams around to fit the current conference realignment. With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, the game forced Big Ten teams to play nine conference games, and I could not select the opponents. Luckily, I could select the non-conference match-ups and the video game gave NU all the correct conference opponents except Penn State.
Of course, I had to make some roster adjustments as well. After simulating through 2013, I struggled through cutting Venric Mark, Sean McEvilly and Christian Jones since none of them will be playing in a Wildcat uniform this season. I added Miles Shuler and the game brought in new recruits. Then, it just took a couple adjustments to the depth chart, based on the week one lineup, and the team was ready to go.
The start of the season wasn't pretty, but the 'Cats got the job done early. Despite three picks from Trevor Siemian, Northwestern beat Cal 31-28 with 529 total yards on offense. They then proceeded to squeak by Northern Illinois 35-30 thanks to five total touchdowns, three passing and two rushing, by Siemian.
After the week 3 bye, NU fell 41-24 to Ohio State (remember the schedule is slightly off) and then lost to Indiana 41-38 in overtime. These were the only teams Northwestern played that are not on the actual schedule.
A huge game from Tony Jones, in which he totaled 157 receiving yards and one score, helped the 'Cats rebound with a 24-17 against Michigan. NU followed that game up with a 35-21 loss to Minnesota, leaving them at 3-3 halfway through the season.
Northwestern finished the simulated season unbelievably strong. The Wildcats blew out Iowa 37-14 as Dan Vitale caught eight balls for 144 yards and two touchdowns while Siemian threw for over 450 yards. NU then beat Notre Dame 38-28 as Treyvon Green punched it into the end zone twice. Stephen Buckley ran for 157 yards and a touchdown in the 49-14 clobbering of Purdue the following week. Then, a pick-six by Traveon Henry helped NU defeat Wisconsin 52-38 in week 12.
|Opponent||Result||Player of the Game|
|Cal||W 31-28||T. Jones (156 Rec Yds, 2 TDs)|
|Northern Illinois||W 35-30||Siemian (277 Pass Yds, 5 TDs)|
|At Ohio State||L 24-41||Chance Carter (5 TFL, 2 Sacks)|
|Indiana||L 38-41 OT||Prater (189 Rec Yards, TD)|
|Michigan||W 24-17||T. Jones (157 Rec Yds, TD)|
|Minnesota||L 21-35||Green (96 Rush Yds, TD)|
|Iowa||W 37-14||Vitale (144 Rec Yds, 2 TDs)|
|Notre Dame||W 38-28||Siemian (285 Pass Yds, 4 TDs)|
|At Purdue||W 49-14||Buckley (157 Rush Yds, TD)|
|Wisconsin||W 52-38||Siemian (410 Pass Yds, 5 TDs)|
|At Nebraska||W 45-35||T. Jones (207 Rec Yds, 5 TDs)|
|At Illinois||W 45-13||T. Jones (170 Rec Yds, 3 TDs)|
|LSU||W 42-16||Siemian (423 Pass Yds, 5 TDs)|
If you haven't lost faith in the video game yet, get ready for the next game. In a 45-35 win over Nebraska, Trevor Siemian threw for 415 yards and six touchdowns, five of which were caught by Tony Jones. NU then took home the Land of Lincoln Trophy by crushing Illinois 45-13.
The 'Cats topped off the season with a 42-16 victory over LSU in the Gator Bowl. With a 10-3 final record, Northwestern finished the simulation season ranked 6th in the country.
So perhaps NCAA Football 14 isn't the most accurate predictor for Northwestern football, especially considering Ohio State shouldn't even be on the schedule and Western Illinois should. That likely would have bumped the video game 'Cats to 10-2 and a conference championship berth.
In general though, the game's Big Ten results weren't too far off expectations, with the exception of one big outlier. Here's a look:
The game seems to put a lot of emphasis on returning starters. Returning players often got huge boosts in their ratings through off-season development, which miraculously turned Trevor Siemian into a 96 overall rated quarterback. Indiana and Northwestern both returned 17 starters, likely why they finished so high.
Analysts often use the term "video game" numbers. Well, now's your chance to see what video game stats actually look like. Here are Northwestern's offensive stats from the regular season portion of the simulation, with their game rating out of 99:
|Player||Rating||Pass Yds||Pass TDs||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||Rec.||Rec Yds||Rec TDs|
Looking at the numbers, the virtual Pat Fitzgerald depended on the pass much more than he did on the run. But it's hard to blame him since in the course of one offseason, his starting quarterback turned into one of the game's best passers and his wide receiving corps became deeper than the ocean.
On top of the massive stats, Trevor Siemian, Tony Jones and Brandon Vitabile were all named first team all-Big Ten and Jones was an all-american. Siemian is rated astonishingly high at 96 and Jones is a bit over the top at 90. Northwestern's other top-rated players were Ibraheim Campbell (96), Brandon Vitabile (94), Chi Chi Ariguzo (90) and Collin Ellis (88).
As fun as NCAA Football is, it's not great for predicting actual college football results. Is it possible for Northwestern to go 10-3? Yes, but the odds are very slim. And even if they do, they won't crack the nation's top ten like they did in the video game.
One thing the game did expose: NU's potential. The depth chart has a lot of experienced, veteran talent with room for improvement, which we saw in the players' offseason ratings boost. If anything, it's one more reason for optimism in Evanston this football season.