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NCAA 14 Predicts the 2015 Notre Dame Season

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How an effort to simulate the upcoming season went awry

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone misses NCAA Football - we all understand why new versions aren't coming out, but NCAA was the rare sports game that consistently seemed to improve. The EA Sports folks knew what they did well - dynasties with recruiting and coaching changes, Road to Glory, mascot battles - and didn't mess around with them too much.

Since it's prediction season, time to fire up the old Xbox 360 and simulate 2015. Crazy things happen in NCAA, but typically the first season of a dynasty is a fairly reasonable prediction generator for how a season could go, right?

The Set Up

The most difficult thing was finding an accurate, objectively good roster since this game has not been updated in three years.  Blessings to the people at Operation Sports who put in the hours to do work like this - after a little digging I was able to find one for the 2015 season that was pretty close for Notre Dame and at a quick glance led to team ratings close to the preseason polls. The Irish roster and ratings (after some small tweaks) are shown below:

Offense

Player

Position

Rating

Malik Zaire

QB

87

Tarean Folston

RB

87

Will Fuller

WR1

92

Corey Robinson

WR2

85

Amir Carlisle

WR3

83

Durham Smythe

TE

82

Ronnie Stanley

LT

96

Quenton Nelson

LG

85

Nick Martin

C

90

Steve Elmer

RG

84

Mike McGlinchey

RT

85

Defense

Player

Position

Rating

Isaac Rochell

LE

84

Jarron Jones

DT

87

Sheldon Day

DT

87

Romeo Okwara

RE

85

Joe Schmidt

LOLB

84

Nyles Morgan

MLB

84

Jaylon Smith

ROLB

97

KeiVarae Russell

CB1

90

Cole Luke

CB2

87

Matthias Farley

CB3

80

Max Redfield

FS

87

Elijah Shumate

SS

87

Key depth chart decisions:
  • No redshirt for Brandon Wimbush. In the roster I downloaded Wimbush was an 81, DeShone Kizer a 75, and since there's still no clear read of what would happen in case of injury, I left Wimbush second on the depth chart.
  • Quenton Nelson starting at left guard - again, he was rated higher in the roster and seems to be the favorite to beat our Alex Bars. I left Bars as the backup at left tackle, left guard, and right tackle.
  • The wide receiver position is a crowded, crowded group, and it's hard to get a real rotation going in NCAA. I put Amir Carlisle in the third WR position on the depth chart as that usually deploys him as the slot receiver, with Will Fuller and Corey Robinson starting outside. Chris Brown was next man in along with Torii Hunter and CJ Sanders.
  • I sadly removed Ishaq Williams from the DE rotation, where he was included and rated 85. Same with Matt Hegarty and Greg Bryant, with CJ Prosise and Justin Brent becoming full times running backs.
  • Because I am serious virtual football dictator, and I want to win, I make sure virtual Brian Kelly is committed to running the damn ball and winning a championship. I change Tyler Luatua's position from tight end to .....FULLBACK. It fit best with how it seems he'll be used, and should grant me tremendous karma.

NCAA 14 Luatua

Ratings Boosts:
  • I tried to be unbiased, I really did. But some Irish players still seemed underrated, so time to correct them. Ronnie Stanley was bumped from a 92 to 96 (he deserves a 97 is pass blocking), Jaylon Smith from 92 to 97 with some adjustments to his speed and acceleration.
  • Will Fuller also received a boost to his speed and acceleration, bumping him to 92 overall.
  • Finally, after moving Farley from being listed as a safety to CB3 in order to reflect him starting at nickel, his rating had dropped to 78. So I improved his tackling, awareness, and press coverage to get him to an 80, which still seemed low, but if I left myself unrestrained I would be upping ratings all day.
The schedule

So we start in Week 1 subbing out Temple for Texas, and ....crap. Texas does not show as an available option. This is going to be a different schedule.

The rearranging process manages to miraculously work out so that I have every 2015 opponent except UMass (sorry Charley Molnar!). I sub them out for Army, since my virtual team in theory will not face greater risk of injury playing yet another triple option opponent. I'm also hoping that NCAA doesn't somehow incorporate travel fatigue, as switching around the order of opponents resulted in four of the first five games on the road.

Final Schedule:

Week 1

at Virginia

Week 2

vs. Texas

Week 3

at Clemson

Week 4

at Wake Forest

Week 5

at Temple

Week 6

vs. Boston College

Week 7

Bye

Week 8

vs. USC

Week 9

Bye

Week 10

vs Navy

Week 11

at Pittsburgh

Week 12

vs. Army

Week 13

vs. Georgia Tech

Week 14

at Stanford

The season:

I adjusted the coaching philosophy to try to match a best guess at what will happen - Run/pass sliders set at 55/45 (this includes QB rushes), offensive aggressiveness at 60 and defensive aggressiveness at 70 to account for BVG's scheme.

Week 1: Notre Dame 42, Virginia 20


Malik Zaire gets off to a rocky start against the Cavaliers, throwing three interceptions, but the Irish pull away in the second half on a Cole Luke pick-six. Malik finishes with 262 yards passing and 121 yards rushing and three total scores, so overall still a solid effort.

Week 2: Texas 42, Notre Dame 26


Welp, that was unexpected. Virtual Malik is apparently cursed by the ghost of Tommy Rees and completes only 8 of 33 passes with three picks. After falling behind 10-0, Jerrod Heard throws four touchdowns in the second quarter, and while Notre Dame cuts it to 28-20 in the third, Texas pulls away. The only bright side is Justin Yoon hitting all four of his field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards. We can build from this.

Week 3: Clemson 23, Notre Dame 17


WHAT IS HAPPENING? The score is not all that surprising, but then I check the box score - Malik Zaire: 4-17, 31 yards. Virtual Brian Kelly did give Brandon Wimbush a shot, and he decides to continue the fun with one completion in five attempts. The Irish were up 17-14 at half and were then held scoreless in the second half at Death Valley.

At this point somehow the Irish are still ranked #22 despite the fact that EA Sports Malik Zaire appears to be a double agent intent on destroying happiness in South Bend. Since passing has somehow become impossible I double down on the running game in my coach philosophy. I desperately check the injury list looking for answers only to find my team completely healthy.

Week 4: Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 13


Back on track! My wisdom in turning to the run game has prevailed, except....

NCAA 14 Malik

The Based God has removed his curse on the Irish! Malik can pass! Maybe I do not fully understand how these run/pass sliders work! Regardless, I happily take the win and move on.

Week 5: Temple 37, Notre Dame 24

I simulated this (and every other) game, but I'm assuming if I had watched that the "ND Coach" (who is not supposed to be Brian Kelly but is very much him) would have turned a tint of purple.  On what appears to be the first play of the game, Malik Zaire goes down with an ACL sprain and is sidelined. Quenton Nelson also dislocates his elbow and is out eight weeks. I should have known to never mentioned the curse or being injury-free.

Brandon Wimbush struggles a lot, going 12-32 for 178 yards, 2 TDs 2 INTs. I'm too mad to look up his name (and I'm sure will learn it soon), but Owls running back "J. Gilmore" runs for 176 yards and two scores. I imagine Jack Swarbrick (now fully bearded and letting it grow toward Duck Dynasty lengths) giving a vote of confidence in a public statement.

Week 6: Notre Dame 31, Boston College 21

The Irish outscore BC 17-0 in the 4th quarter to stay undefeated in the Shamrock Series. Malik Zaire returns from injury but the struggle continues, as he throws for just 196 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. Durham Smythe is player of the game with 71 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score.

Week 7: Bye at 3-3. USC, Stanford, and Georgia Tech all still on the schedule. I don't like this.

Week 8: USC 38, Notre Dame 35, OT

Ouch, my balls. This would have been almost as painful as the "Bush Push". Momentum is apparently a very real thing in NCAA, and the Trojans jump out to a 28-0 lead. Malik Zaire, still battling an ACL sprain, manages a heroic comeback including a tying TD run with 59 seconds remaining. Then in overtime, USC kicks a field goal and for the Irish something bad happens (impossible to tell from the box score, but either a missed FG, interception, or fumble).

Week 9: Bye. This started as a fun idea and has descended into madness. I must finish the season, no matter what happens.

Week 10: Notre Dame 13, Navy 10

The team finally catches a break as Keenan Reynolds is injured, and Navy only manages to rush for 199 yards (on 58 carries!). The passing game is still terrible, but Isaac Rochell makes 12 tackles, so there's that. I am now treasuring every win as it has crossed my mind that this virtual team may not be bowl eligible.

Week 11: Pittsburgh 30, Notre Dame 17

Maybe I'm cursed. My four years in South Bend coincided with Charlie Weis' last four years, and this feels eerily like one a season from the late Weis era. This virtual BK is never going to be leave for a job in Madden. Zaire and Wimbush split time and somehow neither is effective. I double check their ratings, and their passing accuracy and arm strength are normal. I am now going full ND Nation and adjusting my philosophy almost exclusively to running the ball.

Week 12: Notre Dame 38, Army 3

The change in philosophy is not as extreme as I hoped, but it still works against Army, as a committee rushes for 207 yards on 44 carries. Against an inferior opponent Malik Zaire has his second decent performance of the season, throwing three TDs and no picks (but only 156 yards). Two games left against Georgia Tech (#4) and Stanford (#9) - I need to find a win in one to reach a bowl.

Week 13: Notre Dame 24, Georgia Tech 7

A win over a ranked team! Bowl eligibility! No Paul Johnson in the CFP (or BCS or whatever, it doesn't matter). Malik Zaire is instructed to run five times each series before he can pass, and carries 22 times for 158 yards. The Jackets are held to 161 yards rushing. I'm starting to think this simulation is a parallel universe where the opposite of real life outcomes take place.

Week 14: Notre Dame 17, Stanford 10

A 7-5 record is salvaged with consecutive wins over ranked opponents to end the year. The "no passing please" offense leads to 54 rushes for 265 yards, compared to 6 completions out of 21 passing attempts.  Kevin Hogan apparently contracts whatever arm disease originated in South Bend and goes 5-17 for 42 yards with an interception.

Bowl Game: Notre Dame 45, Cal 21(Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl)

The Irish run for 270 yards on 52 carries and cruise to a bowl win. Brian Kelly finishes 8-5 again (CoachoCinco!), but maybe learns something along the way as a run-heavy attack leads to big wins in the final four games. Is this entire thing some kind of NDNation fever dream?

Season Recap:

Since this simulation was so satisfying, I'm sure everyone wants to know how other teams fared, right? It will probably be realistic!

Heisman Winner: Brandon Doughty - QB, Western Kentucky

The Hilltoppers went undefeated and their quarterback was rewarded with the Heisman. Somehow they also only played 11 games, which makes total sense. Video games are for nerds and I hate them.

Second place? Everett Golson, who threw 37 TDs and 2 INTs. Maybe that's who cursed this season...

Playoff Teams: In a satisfying turn of events, undefeated Ohio State lost to Nebraska in the conference championship game, then #2 Oregon lost the Pac-12 title game to Arizona. This led to utter chaos.

In the BCS rankings this left the top four teams as Arizona (11-2, Pac-12 Champ), TCU (10-2), North Carolina (12-1, ACC Champ), and Oklahoma (11-1, Big Ten Champ). In reality I'm guessing the playoff committee would have picked Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arizona, and UNC - so feel free to parlay those for your next trip to Vegas.

This did not go well

Well friends, I'm sorry that this turned out this way, but I hope that this serves as a strong reverse jinx for the season. At the very least it was a fun nostalgic run back through the NCAA franchise. For what it's worth, the Irish still finished ranked #16 and had the #6 recruiting class, which ... actually that doesn't help me feel any better.  Run the dang ball Kelly.