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Playing Northwestern’s now-canceled 2020 nonconference schedule in NCAA Football 14

3-0!

With the Big Ten announcing that all fall sports would move to a conference-only format if they can be played, Northwestern lost its three nonconference football games this season. Now fans can only wonder what would’ve happened in those historically tricky contests against Tulane, Central Michigan and Morgan State.

To mend this three-game gap, we here at Inside NU decided to settle for the next best thing: playing the opponents as scheduled in a video game. Released in 2013, EA Sports NCAA Football 14 is the most recent college football game available. However, this format still poses some limitations. Here are the following caveats with which the games will be played:

  1. I’ve been playing NCAA Football 14 for years, and, thus, have plenty of experience. I might not have worked up my Malcolm Gladwell-certified 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert, but I’m close. Thus, I’m using the highest difficulty level (Heisman) and the sliders used in Inside NU’s earlier NCAA Football video game series to try to make things more difficult.
  2. The most current rosters available online are from the end of the 2019-2020 season. Accordingly, I’ll be using those exact rosters. The exceptions to this rule are Peyton Ramsey and John Raine, two incoming graduate transfers, whom I’ve moved from their old schools to Northwestern.
  3. Morgan State, one of NU’s opponents, is an FCS school. Only FBS teams are listed in the game, as FCS teams are replaced by generic, geographically-named teams. Thus, Morgan State has been replaced with FCS Southeast.

Game 1: vs. Tulane

Final Score: W, 49-42

If you didn’t know before, for all its merits, the NCAA Football game series features heavily overpowered offenses. The difficulty sliders are meant to try and adjust for the offensive advantage, but they proved futile.

After Northwestern forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the game, the Wildcats and Green Wave combined for five consecutive scoring drives, featuring a 24-yard end zone scamper by Isaiah Bowser, a 69-yard touchdown completion from Peyton Ramsey to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and a one-yard QB sneak score from Ramsey himself. In between, Tulane scored twice on two runs of over 55 yards each.

Entering the second quarter with a 21-14 lead, the Wildcats proceeded to force the second punt of the game with a dominant defensive stand capped off by a monstrous hit from middle linebacker Paddy Fisher. After a 20-yard punt return by Riley Lees, Ramsey broke off for a 56-yard carry on the first play of the drive and later converted another sneak at the goal line. Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan answered with a touchdown on a QB keeper of his own, bringing the score to 28-21 with 3:42 left in the half.

The offenses then slowed for two consecutive three-and-out drives before picking up once again for a combined three consecutive touchdowns in the final two minutes of the half. Northwestern headed to the locker room up 42-28 behind two rushing touchdowns from Bowser and four total scores from the newcomer Ramsey.

Northwestern’s first drive of the second half ended with a fumble from Bowser, on which Tulane capitalized with a 13-play touchdown drive. Entering the fourth quarter, the ‘Cats held a 42-35 lead but promptly regained control with a scoring drive capped by a 10-yard rush from Drake Anderson. Despite a late touchdown, the Green Wave failed to recover an onside kick to keep their hopes alive, prompting NCAA 14’s discount version of Willie the Wildcat to dance as his team secured the 49-42 victory.

Game 2: vs. Central Michigan

Final score: W, 46-3

Certain nonconference battles between a Power 5 team and a mid-major opponent result in monumental upsets that are remembered for years to come. Appalachian State beating Michigan at the Big House in 2007, Temple knocking off fifth-ranked Virginia Tech in 1998 and Cincinnati defeating Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne and Wisconsin in 1999 all come to mind.

This was not one of those games.

From the jump, Northwestern was dominant in every aspect of their rout of Central Michigan. Offensively, the Wildcats put up 557 total yards and had a Red Zone efficiency rating of 100 percent. All six of Northwestern’s touchdowns were scored on passes from Peyton Ramsey, who set a new school record for passing touchdowns in a game.

Aside from Ramsey’s dominance, a handful of Wildcats had impressive showings. Ramsey’s fellow grad-transfer John Raine hauled in three touchdown catches, Isaiah Bowser ran for 157 yards on 13 carries and caught five passes for 98 yards, and Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman scored his second touchdown of 50+ yards in as many games.

On the defensive end, the ‘Cats allowed only three points, holding the Chippewas to a 23 percent third down conversion rate while allowing only 47 yards throughout the game. Samdup Miller had 10 solo tackles, three of which were tackles for a loss, and Trae Williams intercepted a pass, giving Northwestern its first takeaway of the year.

As for special teams…well…Charlie Kuhbander missed two extra points and a field goal. But what’s new there. The Wildcats win, 46-3, and the Mike Bajakian era is off to a thrilling start.

Game 3: vs. Morgan State (FCS Southeast)

Final score: W, 52-13

$450,000. That’s enough money to pay for 5.5 years of undergraduate tuition, room, board and fees Northwestern at full cost. Enough money to buy 6,923 party platters of wings from Buffalo Joe’s. That’s how much Northwestern would’ve paid Morgan State to play in Evanston this November had the game between the Bears and the Wildcats not been canceled.

Instead, Northwestern isn’t paying Morgan State anything, and I’m left to play a generic FCS Southeast team in their place on a video game console that became outdated over half a decade ago. This pandemic, man.

This game was actually much more competitive than I expected, in relative terms. Each of the first five drives (three from the Bears, two from Wildcats) ended in a three-and-out. The scoring began with an 88-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Ramsey to Trey Pugh, the only TD in the first quarter, which ended with Northwestern ahead 10-0.

In the second quarter, though, the Bears’ weakness began to show. They struggled mightily against the read-option, which allowed Northwestern to rush for 399 yards and five touchdowns. Ramsey and Isaiah Bowser combined for 283 of those yards on their own, as well as four of the touchdowns.

In the end, FCS Southeast just couldn’t measure up to the Power 5 talent of Northwestern’s roster. This is reasonable, given that they’re a fictional team meant to stand-in for so-called “cupcake schools” in a video game made in 2013 whose players never existed in real life. ‘Cats win 52-13, finishing their non-conference schedule undefeated.

What nonconference struggles?