NCAA 14: A rivalry classic and a matchup with No. 5 Indiana

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 8:41pm

Ronnie Bell's last minute catch clutched a victory from the jaws of defeat

Ronnie Bell's last minute catch clutched a victory from the jaws of defeat Buy this photo
Alexandria Pompei/Daily

It’s been a few weeks since our last update on our NCAA 14 simulation of Michigan football, so let’s start with a quick recap of what we’ve seen so far. 

Led by first-year head coach Stanford Lipsey, the Wolverines opened the season with what seemed to be a signature victory over then-No. 4 Washington. In the following weeks, Michigan steamrolled Ball State, survived an upset bid from Arkansas State and escaped a potential trap game at Navy with a win. At the start of conference play, the Wolverines dominated the bottomfeeders of the Big Ten — Northwestern, Maryland and Rutgers. 

This week, No. 2 Michigan travels to East Lansing for a rivalry showdown with Michigan State, followed by a home game against Penn State and a tough road trip against an infeasibly hot Indiana team. 

At least virtually, it’s November in Michigan — can coach Lipsey’s team win when it really matters?

Game 8: No. 2 Michigan at Michigan State

In this universe, the Spartans remain led by coach Mark Dantonio. Mel Tucker still coaches at Colorado, likely because NCAA 14 has an in-game mechanism that punishes coaches for not keeping promises to players (seriously, it actually does). 

This rendition of the Battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy was vintage Dantonio. Michigan State’s punishing defense and old-fashioned offense limited the number of Michigan drives and put the Spartans in position to upset the nation’s second-best team. It felt even more Dantonio when quarterback Rocky Lombardi threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to give Michigan State a 4-point lead with 38 seconds remaining. 

On the first play of the Wolverines’ next drive, with the season on the line and Heisman aspirations looming large, junior quarterback Dylan McCaffrey slung it toward junior wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who had snuck past the Spartans’ safety and ran wide open along the sideline. 

McCaffrey overthrew him. 

Spartan Stadium erupted. The faux ESPN broadcast cut to a pixelated Sparty breakdancing in the corner of the endzone. #FireLipsey started trending on Twitter. 

But then, chaos. Somehow, Bell found himself free again. This time, McCaffrey didn’t miss. The 51-yard touchdown pass secured a 31-28 Michigan victory and added a textbook “Heisman moment” to McCaffrey’s highlight reel. Pixelated Sparty went full surrender cobra.

Game 9: No. 2 Michigan vs Penn State

Michigan won, 21-17. The end wasn’t as exciting as it sounds. 

Don’t believe me? Here’s the play-by-play from Penn State’s attempt at a game winning drive:

S. Clifford incomplete pass. 

S. Clifford incomplete pass. 

S. Clifford incomplete pass. 

S. Clifford pass thrown away. 

A James Franklin masterpiece.

The game’s only redeeming qualities were McCaffrey’s three touchdown passes, which put him at 27 on the season and surpassed Elvis Grbac’s Michigan record of 25. 

Game 10: No. 2 Michigan at No. 5 Indiana

Does anyone actually know what a Hoosier is? It appears all over the state of Indiana, on their newspapers, their businesses and, most famously, their third largest university. When you Google “what is a hoosier," it turns out to be just another word for “a person from Indiana.” Then again, what can you expect from a state that prides itself on being a midway point.

In this simulation, the Indiana Hoosiers are the fifth best team in college football. Their offense averages 480 yards per game, and their quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., is fifth in the Heisman watch. 

Against the Michigan Michiganders, Indiana couldn’t live up to their name or their rank, putting up an abysmal offensive showing in a 26-14 loss. Penix did his part, slinging 17 completions for 247 yards and a touchdown, but Indiana’s rushing attack managed just 33 yards, contributing to the Hoosiers’ six punts. 

The Michigan offense wasn’t much better, as it managed just two touchdowns on the day, but four field goals from senior kicker Quinn Nordin — three of which from 40-plus yards — did enough to earn the Wolverines a victory. 

Around the country

Michigan awoke on Sunday morning as the new No. 1 team in the land after No. 19 North Carolina upset top-ranked Clemson in overtime. Beyond that, things have gotten more normal throughout the country, with the top five rounded out by Florida, Alabama, Louisville and Notre Dame. Ohio State sits at No. 12 after a road win against a crumbling Penn State team, and Indiana dropped to No. 8 after its first loss of the season. 

Despite some impressive performances, McCaffrey appears to be on the outside of the Heisman race looking in with Alabama running back Najee Harris and Boston College running back David Bailey both emerging as the clear front-runners. 

At 6-0 in conference play, No. 20 Nebraska has clinched a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Wolverines will likely punch their ticket next week, when they take on a 2-8 Iowa squad. 

Regardless, the Hawkeyes probably seem insignificant to Lipsey’s team. Even a Big Ten Championship would ring hollow if Michigan can’t win that last game of the regular season. 

It may not be against the highest-ranked team, but make no mistake about it — it will be the biggest game of Lipsey’s young career.