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Don’t Hate the Player: NCAA ’13 Simulation of Northwestern vs. Michigan State

WNUR Sports Social Media Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) uses NCAA Football ’13 to simulate Saturday’s contest between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Michigan State Spartans.

Simulations are, by definition, not always realistic. This one is no different. Week 11 of the simulated season still has Arkansas sitting on top of the NCAA. Does that mean I should stop? No way! It’s important to understand how a simulation is different from reality and how those differences may impact the difference in outcomes. The simulation started with rosters and rankings from the beginning of the season, so teams with a lot of pre-season hype are good in the game. The other factor is injuries: the health of real-life players isn’t reflected in the simulation.

As always, I’ll use NCAA Football 13’s SuperSim function under default settings to determine the winner of Northwestern’s weekly game. Then, I’ll look at what else is happening in the simulated season. You’ll notice that the rankings don’t always match up with real life. This is a result of my simulated 2012 season running independently from real life.

Key Players on Northwestern:

SS Ibraheim Campbell (Soph): 88 Overall, 93 tackling

LB David Nwabusi (SR): 87 Overall, 92 tackling

QB Kain Colter (JR): 87 Overall, 85 agility

Key players on Michigan State:

CB Johnny Adams (SR): 92 Overall, 92 speed

DE William Gholston (JR): 92 Overall, 90 tacking

HB Leveon Bell (JR): 87 Overall, 92 trucking

Matchup:

NU [6-4 (4-2)]: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B-

#4 Michigan State [9-1 (5-1)]: Overall: A, Offense: B+, Defense: A

Northwestern Game Recap

Northwestern fans in real life may be wondering “what if” and imagining a perfect season, but things have gone the opposite way in real life for the Spartans. A team with high expectations before the season hasn’t delivered in real life, but a simulation based on pre-season rankings is another story. The virtual Spartans are a force. This was obvious from their first play from scrimmage, a 53-yard bomb to Keith Mumphery. Although the ‘Cats allowed a score on the first drive, they knocked Michigan State’s star running back Leveon Bell out of the game with a mild concussion. Northwestern’s first offensive drive wasn’t as easy as Michigan State’s, but it did result in a touchdown. Early on, the game had the looks of a shootout, but that didn’t last long.

Michigan State was driving to start the second quarter with the score tied at 7, and they were able to cap off a long drive with a TD to take a 14-7 lead. Northwestern struggled offensively in the second quarter, allowing Michigan State’s offense to operate with solid field position. With under a minute left in the first half, Spartan QB Andrew Maxwell notched his third TD pass of the game to give MSU a 21-7 lead.

Statistically, the two teams were fairly even in the first half, despite a 14-point Spartan lead. Northwestern gained more rushing yards than Michigan State, but the big difference was Northwestern’s inability to stop the pass.

Northwestern’s offense sputtered on the first possession of the second half, deflated by the second sack on Kain Colter. The Spartans again converted on good field position to take a commanding 28-7 lead. The bright spot of the game came when Damien Proby intercepted a pass when Michigan State was driving late in the third quarter. Using a mix of run and pass plays, Northwestern was able to score before the end of the quarter to cut the lead to 28-14.

Trailing by 14 at the start of the fourth quarter, Northwestern needed a lot of things to go right to have a shot at the victory. The ‘Cats had the ball in the red zone midway through the quarter when Kain Colter’s third down pass was intercepted. The Spartans pretty much ran out the clock from there. Northwestern had another late opportunity, but couldn’t get going. Michigan State added a meaningless TD, but missed the extra point (karma!) for a 34-14 win.

Final Thoughts

The ‘Cats ran into a virtual brick wall against the Spartans. Judging by their #4 national ranking, the virtual Spartans are way better than their real-life counterparts. Since they were playing from behind the whole game, Northwestern had to pass much more often than they ran. This hurt the overall offense by reducing them to one dimension. On the other side, Michigan State was able to both run and pass, despite the injury to star running back Leveon Bell. His backup, Larry Caper, went for over 120 yards and 2 TDs.

Big Games This Week

#1 Arkansas @ Mississippi State: Arkansas wins, 28-14

Ohio State @ #5 Wisconsin: Ohio State wins, 10-3

#22 NC State @ #10 Clemson: NC State wins, 35-33

#2 Kansas State @ #18 Baylor: Kansas State wins, 31-14

Stanford @ #20 Oregon: Stanford wins, 40-37

#9 Oklahoma @ #6 West Virginia: Oklahoma wins, 45-27

Around the Big Ten

Even though they’re not eligible for the postseason, Ohio State got a big win against Wisconsin and Penn State defeated Indiana. While neither the Nittany Lions nor the Buckeyes have done as well in the simulation as in real life, these results seem very possible. Iowa improved their simulated record to 10-1 (seriously) with a 7-point win at Michigan. Purdue handled Illinois and Nebraska thrashed Minnesota.

Heisman Top 5:

Knile Davis, HB, Arkansas

Malcolm Brown, HB, Texas

De’Anthony Thomas, HB, Oregon

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida St.

Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State

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