In the last part of The Daily’s NCAA 14 simulation of Michigan football, the Wolverines saw their national championship hopes erased by Ohio State. Despite almost unprecedented levels of success in his first season, coach Stanford Lipsey’s first matchup against the Buckeyes ended in the same way as the previous eight renditions of The Game.
But the season isn’t over. Thanks to some early-season struggles from Ohio State, Michigan still has the Big Ten Championship Game and a potential Rose Bowl berth to end the year on a strong note. The Wolverines haven’t even been to a Rose Bowl since 2007, so the famously patient Michigan faithful would surely deem a 2-0 finish to the season an unmitigated success.
Big Ten Championship Game: No. 5 Michigan vs Nebraska
Do you remember that scene from Interstellar where Cooper’s driving his kids to school and quickly abandons the road when he sees a rogue drone flying overhead? His truck cops a flat tire and there’s no road for him to follow to get to the drone, so he plows right through a cornfield and eventually reaches his goal.
That’s essentially the story of this game, a 90’s football fan’s wet dream. The Wolverines had their goal in sight — the program’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 2007 — and ran right through the Cornhuskers to reach it. Led by an outstanding 168 yards and two touchdown catches from senior wide receiver Nico Collins, Michigan harvested a 38-17 blowout over Nebraska. Sophomore defensive tackle Christopher Hinton led the defense with ten tackles, and junior linebacker Cam McGrone tallied two sacks and a fumble recovery.
With Nebraska out of the way, Lipsey’s Wolverines move on to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl and a chance to salvage some joy at the end of an imperfect season.
Rose Bowl: No. 3 Michigan vs No. 20 California
What better way for a team to bid farewell to its seniors than a game at the most historic and picturesque venue in college football?
I guess virtually all players would prefer a national championship, but even so, the sun setting over the Rose Bowl is just more poetic than the roof retracting over the Mercedes Benz™ Tostitos™ Coke Zero™ National Championship Game presented by Bass Pro Shops™. Plus, the open air helps prevent the spread of disease as the Cal and Michigan alumni in the stands take every chance they can to mention where they went to school.
For the Wolverines’ seniors, it was a goodbye for the ages. In a 38-13 Michigan victory, Collins capped off his illustrious career with six receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown. McCaffrey’s other two touchdown passes went to senior tight end Nick Eubanks, and senior safety Brad Hawkins pulled in an interception for good measure. Even the special teams got involved — senior kicker Quinn Nordin finished a career full of hits and misses with a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Like many Wolverine senior classes in recent memory, this one will leave with questions about what could have been. It isn’t easy to stick with a program through a coaching change — especially when the new guy has never coached football in his life — but in the end, they will certainly be remembered fondly in Michigan lore.
Around the country
We unfortunately did not get to see Indiana’s Tom Allen coach in a championship game. Instead, the BCS National Championship featured Florida — who sprung to No. 2 in the country after upsetting Alabama in the SEC Championship — narrowly defeating No. 1 Louisville, 30-27. The seventh-ranked Hoosiers were relegated to the Allstate Sugar Bowl, where they fell to No. 4 Florida State, 46-39. No. 8 Oklahoma bowled over No. 12 Western Kentucky, 34-14, in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and No. 3 Alabama rounded out the BCS bowls with a 10-7 victory over No. 10 Virginia Tech.
Louisville running back Hassan Hall won the Heisman trophy, yet was snubbed from the All-American first team, with Boston College’s David Bailey and Alabama’s Najee Harris taking his place. Michigan’s defense was loaded with All-Americans, with Hinton, McGrone, senior defensive end Kwity Paye, junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, and junior cornerbacks Vincent Gray and Gemon Green all notching first team honors. Hinton, in fact, earned the Bednarik Award as the country's best defensive player. McCaffrey and Collins both landed spots on the second team.
Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown retired at the age of 66, to be replaced by Buffalo defensive coordinator Jake Dickert. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis left for the head coaching job at UNLV, replaced by fired Bowling Green head coach Scot Loeffler.
Other notable changes around the country include the retirement of Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio — who was replaced by defensive coordinator Mike Tressel — and the firing of Illinois head coach Lovie Smith. Jon Hoke, the brother of former Michigan coach Brady Hoke, is now the head coach at Central Michigan. Mel Tucker remains in Colorado after promising to leave the university.
Despite loud cries from the fanbase after a one-loss year, Stanford Lipsey’s contract was extended another year. His honeymoon season was full of surprises — a top 10 win in his first game, a classic Michigan/Northwestern game, a signature victory over No. 5 Indiana, a soul-crushing defeat to Ohio State — but at the end of the day, he’s brought the Wolverines to the brink of a national championship.
And he’ll have plenty more opportunities.