WNUR Sports Social Media Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) previews this Saturday’s game between the Northwestern University Wildcats and the University of Illinois Fighting Illini with the assistance of NCAA Football ’13.
This is it: the final game of Northwestern’s simulated regular season. It’s also, then, the last regular column in this series. I wish I could offer some insightful commentary about how this weekly column has been a kind of journey of self-discovery or something, but let’s be honest. I’m no closer to figuring out the meaning of life or Northwestern football than I was in September. I’m just thankful WNUR Sports has been kind enough to publish this crazy column week after week.
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 Illinois:
LB Jonathan Brown (JR): 88 Overall, 90 awareness
DE Michael Buchanan (SR): 85 Overall, 75 agility
WR Darius Millines (JR): 83 Overall, 96 acceleration
NU [6-5 (4-3)]: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B-
Illinois [6-5 (3-4)]: Overall: B, Offense: B-, Defense: B
Northwestern Game Recap
Illinois may be better in the virtual world than in real life, but in the simulated season, their backfield is depleted with injuries to running back Donovan Young and QB Nathan Scheelhaase. The weather for this game was snowy and windy, which hurt both offenses. It took both teams a while to get warmed up. Northwestern scored first on a short TD pass to Kyle Prater late in the first quarter.
After one quarter, Northwestern appeared to be dominating both sides of the ball. The Illini hadn’t recorded a first down and the ‘Cats were driving toward a second touchdown. That drive stalled and resulted in a field goal to give Northwestern a 10-0 lead.
Illinois backup QB Riley O’Toole really struggled in the cold, but his receivers offered little help. O’Toole finished the first half with 3 completions on 12 attempts. On the other side, Kain Colter’s passing stats were radically boosted by completing a Hail Mary pass right before the half for a 64-yard touchdown. Northwestern took a 20-0 lead into halftime. The Illinois offense simply couldn’t stay on the field in the first half, earning just one first down and 29 total yards. The Wildcats, by comparison, looked unstoppable with nearly 300 first half yards.
Illinois finally got the passing game working on their second possession of the second half. They scored their first TD of the game with some time left in the third quarter, but Northwestern’s lead at that point was already 27-0. This seemingly meaningless touchdown, which made it 27-7, changed everything. Northwestern fumbled early in their next drive, and Illinois was able to capitalize a few plays later to cut the Northwestern lead to 27-14. Northwestern fumbled again on the ensuing kickoff and Illinois again recovered. Illinois was driving to end the third quarter, and the former blowout had turned back into a ballgame.
Illinois scored on a short third-and-goal early in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Illini had ripped off 21 straight points to make the score 27-21. Northwestern’s ensuing drive failed to produce positive yards. Illinois took over with solid field position. It took them 10 plays, including a brutal fourth down conversion, but Illinois worked their way into the endzone to take a 28-27 lead.
Northwestern took over with a little over 2 minutes to play. They had lost all momentum and were in danger of a devastating loss. So what did Kain Colter do? He led a 12-play, 83-yard drive for a touchdown. Colter took it in himself from 5 yards out with 47 seconds left on the clock. Northwestern added the two-point conversion to take the lead back, 35-28.
Did the ‘Cats leave Illinois too much time? The Fighting Illini took over with all three timeouts, 40 seconds on the clock, and 81 yards to go. They got just one first down before the Northwestern secondary tightened up, got a key fourth down stop, and gave the ‘Cats the ball back to run out the clock.
Whew. This game knows what a “Cardiac ‘Cats” special looks like, that’s for sure. Even then, this seems like a bit too much. Northwestern blew a 27-point second half lead, only to come back and win in the final minute. Northwestern was statistically dominant, but were nearly undone by turnovers. While it seems unlikely that real life even comes close to this outcome, I know better than to make any assumptions about this Northwestern football team.
Big Games This Week
Georgia Tech @ #8 Georgia: Georgia wins, 35-14
Michigan @ #21 Ohio State: Ohio State wins, 38-35
#7 LSU @ #1 Arkansas: Arkansas wins, 38-17
Notre Dame @ #25 USC: Notre Dame wins, 10-9
#19 Auburn @ Alabama: Alabama wins, 31-29
Florida @ #3 Florida State: Florida wins, 24-15
#22 South Carolina @ #17 Clemson: South Carolina wins, 36-17
#15 Oklahoma State @ #5 Oklahoma: Oklahoma wins, 38-3
Around the Big Ten
The simulation was freakishly accurate in one case this year: Purdue’s last game against Indiana would decide whether or not the Boilermakers would make a bowl. According to the simulation, Purdue wins 31-14. Everything else about the Big Ten is off. Ohio State finished 9-3 (6-2) with a win against Michigan. The Wolverines finished 6-6 (3-5). Iowa finished with only two losses (both in conference) after losing at home against Nebraska to finish the season. Michigan State dominated the virtual Big Ten, capping off a near-perfect run with a win at Minnesota (3-9 overall). The Spartans will play in the Big Ten championship and boast an 11-1 record. The simulation also correctly picked Wisconsin to play in Indy, but who didn’t see that coming? They finished their regular season with a 14-point win at Penn State (4-8 overall),
Heisman Top 5:
Knile Davis, HB, Arkansas
EJ Manuel, QB, Florida St.
Ryan Aplin, QB, Arkansas State
Malcolm Brown, HB, Texas
De’Anthony Thomas, HB, Oregon