Playing Michigan's (Fictional) Season: Week Five & Six

Sandra Dukes-US PRESSWIRE

NCAA Football '14 released on July 9th, and I've decided to test my fortunes with playing through the 2013 season with our beloved Wolverines. Now, it has been a few years since I played an NCAA game, and I got the urge to take a pretty good Michigan team, and combine it with my above-average video game skills and see what happens. Game-by-game diaries with highlights and hilarity commence.

Game #5 vs. Minnesota

There's a reason Minnesota hasn't won the Little Brown Jug very many times. The bizarro world nature of NCAA '14 is such that it occasionally likes to throw a curve ball at you, imbuing your seemingly weak opponent with superpowers that takes half a football game to figure out. This was the case against the Gophers. I also figured out that the game's AI is much better at executing the game than I am.

Completely plausibly, the game began with a trade of interceptions between the teams. "Devin Gardner" threw a dumb INT across the middle of the field while escaping some charging Gopher linemen. Now, Minnesota decided to become possessed by some iteration of a powerful offense, and was moving the ball at will down the field. Their slippery quarterback knew the pistol formation like the back of his hand, and was getting first downs left and right. Before I knew what was going on, I'm down 10 points in a quarter.

Fake Al Borges (that would be me) was really mucking up the schemes, failing to get any first downs, botching field goals because the blasted kick controls are still a thorn in my side, and Michigan appeared to want to hand the jug back without a fight.

"Thomas Gordon" decided to step in and make something of this game, nabbing two critical interceptions deep in Michigan territory on two consecutive drives because Fake Greg Mattison had taken away the QB scramble and my defensive backs were clinging to the Gopher receivers like glue. Five minutes to go, with the game tied at ten, I got the offensive house in order and chewed clock en route to a go-ahead touchdown.

Michigan leads, 17-10.

Then I decided to try an experiment. I simulated the entire second half out of some oddly-placed desire to see how much better the game's AI is at running Michigan's offense against inferior competition. I was correct. The computer possessed Devin Gardner with great aplomb, and he erupted for four touchdowns, 32 of 41 pass completions, and 427 yards through the air. Minnesota did not score another point the entire second half, and when the clock read zero, Michigan had beaten the poor Gophers into the ground by a final margin of 59-10. Afterward, the game's season mode displayed a headline that Michigan had won big over "hated Minnesota" -- who knew that Minnesota was so very despised?

Game Six vs. Penn State

Even though I didn't wish to hear "Seven Nation Army" 18,000 times, I begrudgingly strapped in for another battle, this time in Happy Valley. If the game against Minnesota was surprising, this game against Penn State was utterly baffling on account of the Nittany Lion team that showed up. Fake Bill O'Brien must have taken some crazy pills and psycho Kool-Aid, because he was determined to upset Michigan.

Penn State has a freshman quarterback, but one wouldn't know that based on this game. I bumbled my way through the first quarter, getting almost no yards, allowing Penn State to get many, many yards, and only had a 47-yard field goal to show for my efforts. Unfazed, the Bizarro Lions struck back with a pass down the sideline the bypassed all Michigan defenders, and once again, I found myself in a struggle with a virtual opponent destined to destroy me. My shining achievement in this game was badly missing a 21-yard field goal with eight minutes left in the half.

Penn State leads an asleep Michigan, 24-10 at halftime.

Not so fast, my blank-jersey-wearing friends.

Crazy Fake Bill O'Brien went for a 4th and 1 on a short field, and of course succeeded, growing the lead. "Devin Gardner" then repaid me by overthrowing a Michigan target and finding an enormous Penn State cornerback waiting for the pass, giving me that old, familiar feeling that Michigan was in for another McGloin-like beatdown.

I kept stopping Penn State's offense, allowing me to chip away at that lead with two successful field goals but continually failing to get to the end zone. The first of those field goals came from two successful sacks, and I had to make sure Alan Branch hadn't somehow been coded into the game, because Penn State's poor quarterback was getting squished. Then I got a touchdown at last, to pull within one point.

Penn State leads 24-23 heading to the final frame.

After yet another Michigan field goal, I led the game for the first time, 26-24, putting the pressure on the Nittany Lions. That pressure got to them, because Crazy Fake Bill O'Brien kept trying to lose rather than win, attempting two consecutive fourth down conversions, the second one coming with under 6 minutes to go in the game. I had fumbled the ball the previous series, and thought I was done for, but I kept getting the ball back,. Penn State got the ball back yet again, and scored very quickly, bringing their lead to 30-26 with under five minutes to go. They tried a two-point conversion for some reason, and failed, giving me the keys to a victory if I could figure out how to score once more.

I chewed clock as best I could, mixing up the play calls. I struck gold with just under two minutes left in the game, got a touchdown from a pass over the middle of the field and blew by their secondary. Brad Nessler got thoroughly confused as to why I punched in a two-point conversion to make the lead 34-30, failing to realize that it made Penn State need a touchdown with no timeouts and a long field.

Their final play after a spike was, of course, an interception by a Michigan defender, and just like that, I escaped Happy Valley with the win.

In celebration, I simulated the next game against a .500 Indiana team to move to 7-0 and the #2 ranking in the country because Texas lost to a terrible Oklahoma team.

Next time, the nerve-wracking battle with Michigan State looms ahead.

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