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Simulated Season Part 1: The First Steps Across The Bridge

There are a lot of reasons I've waited until game week to post the back-by-popular-plurality-endorsed three-part simulated season.  Failure to purchase NCAA 2012, work, MarraFan427, etc.  But perhaps the best reason of all is what we are seeking from this: some possible real insight into how the next few months are going to play out. Re-reading last year's posts, written in early mid-July and early-August, it's clear garbage in means garbage out.  And not just my writing.  Bilal Powell was not mentioned once, nor was Hakeem Smith, Josh Bellamy, Andrell Smith. Important guys like Justin Burke were barely mentioned.  Champ Lee was a superstar, according to July 2010 projections.  Michaelee Harris played. 

So with the Mrs. and youngin' on the road for a few hours on an otherwise-free Saturday afternoon, the actual depth chart for game 1 available online, tidbits from social media and local media about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the team and not much Murray State research to do other than figure out what the hell the WildHorse is, Game Week seems like a perfect time to write and post the simulated season and include the official CardsFan922 IRL Prediction/Pre-Season Guesses.

Who's coming with me?  After the jump....

There's a lot going on with the start of the 2011 Cardinal football season.  Expectations are high (for me), low (for the entire college football universe it seems), reasonable (hopefully most UofL fans) and everywhere in between (choose your own path).  Changing the UK game to week 3 in alternating years may help us this year, as we've got a very young team and two seemingly easy games to start the season.  Petrino was right when he said we play two seasons: UK and everyone else.  And when it is game 3, that makes these first two games seem more like preseason games.  I'm pumped to see us Thursday and next Friday night, but mostly just to see all the new guys in real game situations.  The entire time I'll be thinking, will that play work against UK?  Does that WR catch it if he's wearing blue?  Should we play the intro video with Churchill Downs and the starting bell when there's a WildHorse on the loose?  And why aren't they throwing it to DeVante more? 

There's also the sucky side of the current college football landscape: the Miami story was awesome until it reached its tentacles up 75 and over 64.  And in the back of all of our minds is this fear: what if Charlie Strong gets an SEC offer for 2012?  If this is the bridge year, will he be there with us on the other side? 

But none of that affects the virtual Cardinals, and with as realistic of a roster as possible according to the published depth charts and the limits of my sanity (it takes forever, I gave up when I was trying to get exact offensive line down by position and actual rating), they begin their 2011 season with two ESPN games against weaker opponents, on the road at UK and hosting the Marshall Thundering Heard. For those who care, I am using gamingtailgate's roster with some tweaks: Corvin Lamb is on the team and really good, I've increased ratings for most of our freshman, I've turned injuries off, Speed Threshold is at 30, and I'm simulating the entire season while GaGa's Edge of Glory plays on Spotify on repeat in the background. You're welcome for the SEO bump, Mike.

Let's do this.

Game 1 (0-0, 0-0) - FCS Southeast @ Louisville

Chris Philpott figuratively and literally kicks off the 2011 college football season into the waiting arms of WR#5.  The defense holds for a quick 3-and-out and Vic Anderson scores the first TD of the season from 4 yards out in front of 30,000 excited fans.  The 6 PM start time is a little early to really expect a full house, but by mid-way through the 2nd Quarter, PJCS is rocking.  Will Stein runs one in from 5 yards out and gives two thumbs up to the cameras, which causes a brief Internet outage as 250,000 dudes between the ages of 16-35 post their favorite Sunny Will Stein photoshop into the closest liveblog, facebook status update box, lockerz account or in hard copy form handed to a stranger in the Hurstbourne area.  Vic adds another TD run in the first quarter, Jeremy Wright gets on the board early in the second quarter and Andrell Smith takes one to the house on a 66 yard pass play as the Cards extend the lead to 35-0 with 11 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.  By this point, many of the 30,000 who came straight from work and missed the first quarter are getting dangerously close to the "the game is out of hand we can pretend we're going to get another beer and then just leave" territory.  But many of them stick it out to see Vic Anderson catch a screen pass at the 43, summon up his inner 2008 and score another TD, and the Cards go into the locker room up 42-0.

The WildHorse is contained in the second half, and there is much mocking in the Open Thread because, let's face it, the guy probably looks like a tool, will look terrible against our defense and his nickname is the Wild Horse or something.  Jeremy Wright gets most of the carries in the second half, scoring 3 TDs for a 63-0 final score.  Even writing about it gets boring, and it feels much like a preseason, let's hope no one gets hurt sort of game.  

The stats are as lopsided as you would expect - 609 total yards on offense (45 carries for 258 yards and 15 completions for 351 yards) to just 149 for the visitors.  The defense picks off two passes and forces a fumble, while the offense manages to hold onto the ball the whole game.  Teddy "The Accountant" Bridgewater (because you heard the name Ted Bridgewater, tell me the first thing you think is not "oh ya, Ted, he does my taxes, terrible golfer though") gets in and completes 4 of 8 passes for 59 yards in his first collegiate game.   Will Stein fares better, 11-18 with 2 TDs, although Teddy mostly just hands the ball off because verily, Charlie Strong is a wise and merciful coach. 

Jeremy Wright gets the most carries - 28 workhorse runs for 178 yards.  Vic has a quiet game on the ground stats wise with only 33 yards, but 2 rushing TDs and the aforementioned screen catching TD.  Bridgewater makes good on one of his two available threats to run the ball, carrying it 5 times for 29 yards.  The receiving corps also lives up to its pre-season hype, as Josh Bellamy catches 3 balls for 101 yards, Michaelee Harris gets 3 balls thrown his way successfully for 62 yards and Chi-daddy (I feel weird typing that, I'm going to be honest) gets 3 for 41.  Andrell had another catch for 7 yards on top of his big TD. 

Preston Brown leads the Cards with 7 tackles, but as is expected, the defensive work is spread around, with a ton of guys getting 2-3 tackles.  Anthony Conner (I tweaked his stats up, he could surprise this year) gets an INT and Marcus Smith forces a fumble from the DE spot that is recovered by freshman Anthony Johnson. 

Overall, as to be expected. 

CardsFan922 IRL Prediction:  Murray gets a late TD on a blown assignment by a true freshman corner, but the Cards score early and often and win 59-7.  Lots of freshman play the 2nd half, and the crowd is excited by Corvin Lamb, Teddy and all the WRs, but some obvious rookie mistakes (a fumble or INT or bad route) helps re-set expectations a little bit.

Game 2 (1-0, 0-0) - FIU @ Louisville

Hothot is worried about this game.  They've got some WR who is really good and he's all freaked out about that guy being Keyshawn Johnson or something.  I'm not super worried - of course there will be a tendency to look ahead to UK next week, and sure Florida International is not exactly a high school team.  But still, I mean come on, bro. 

Hothot starts telling everyone he told them so as the Cards struggle in front of the Friday night national ESPN audience, failing to score in the first quarter.  Luckily, they keep FIU off the board as well, so when Damien Copeland catches a 7 yard TD pass from Stein to start the 2nd quarter, there's a big sigh of relief from the assembled masses, 50K+ strong.  A few minutes later, Andrell takes advantage of all the attention the other WRs are getting and gets an 11 yard TD pass from Stein to extend the lead.  Philpott hits a 23-yarder just before the half ends, and the Cards have a 17-0 lead to start the second half.  Andrell is officially HEATING UP as he gets another TD catch, this time a 19 yarder, midway through the 3rd quarter.  Zach Meagher (is he still on the team? don't think so, but wish him well) catches a 6 yard TD pass, and Jeremy Wright breaks and exciting 54 yarder in garbage time as the Cards put the finishing touches on a 38-0 beatdown. 

Again, preseason type game, although T.Y. Hilton is a BCS-caliber player according to hothot and this guy who somehow was able to post a youtube video using 1980s technology.  Even though you can't really tell on the video, he's making those plays against Florida and Alabama, so okay, fine, he's probably good.

The game statistically was not that close either - 26:9 first downs and 482:189 yards.  Despite all the passing TDs, the Cards did most of the damage on the ground, with 58 rushes for 347 yards while only 135 yards in the air.  But they made them count.  Stein accounted for all of the passing stats except for 3 throws (all incomplete) by Fast Teddy B.  Stein also threw his first INT of the season, and Sad Will Stein made its first in-game appearance. 

Wright again got the bulk of the carries, but both he and Vic end up with more than 100 yards (163 and 116 respectively and respectfully so as to not run up the score) and Corvin gets his first virtual carry, for 4 yards.  This says Will ran the ball 16 times, so, not sure what that means but it can't be good.  In addition to the 2 TDs, Andrell had 3 other receptions and 53 yards total, leading the team in both.  Bellamy had another 35 yards but still hasn't found the endzone. 

This time the defense was led by Daniel Brown with 6 tackles, BJ Butler and Andrew Smith both had 5, Heyman 4 and Scruggs 3.  TY Hilton was held to just 2 catches and 16 yards in what has to be a confidence boost to the virtual secondary since I imagine the gameplan was heavily weighted towards stopping him and our corners are the weakest link on the defense.

Again, no sweat.

CardsFan922 IRL Prediction:  Not MTSU 2007 bad, but closer than the simulation indicates and most fans expect, especially early.  The starters play much longer than Strong and Company planned, but the game is put away midway in the 4th quarter on Vic's 3rd TD and the Cards win 35-10.  Hilton returns one for a TD and has a spectacular catch or two, but other than that is held in check.  Onto Lexington...

Game 3 (2-0, 0-0) - Louisville @ UK

Okay, I'll admit: I actually played this game.  I borrowed my brother's copy of NCAA and was going to sim the whole season, but after spending an embarrassing amount of downloading PS3 updates, downloading the roster, fixing the roster, setting the depth chart and otherwise dealing with the game, I couldn't not play one.  So I played this one, and I don't think the stats will match up with the "simmed" stats.  Also I think Jeremy Wright got hurt in practice or something because he was out for this game. 

UK got the ball first and marched down the field with ease, getting a couple first downs - including a ridiculous 3rd and long - but the defense tightened in the red zone and sacked Morgan Newton a couple times, pushing UK back for a long 4th down, but the field goal was good. 

The offense struggled to find its rhythm early with Wright out and Bellamy banged up early, and the teams traded punts.  Finally, on Corvin Lamb's first touch of the game, he took the ball on an inside handoff, broke a tackle by a linebacker and then outran the safety and scored on a 59 yard touchdown run.  It was pretty awesome and totally realistic and lifelike.  On the ensuing kick-off, the Cards forced and recovered a fumble, but had to settle for a Philpott 3 with less than a minute to go to take a 10-3 lead into halftime. 

The offenses were again stymied on both sides of the ball, and Newton threw one pass directly and Daniel Brown and on another Anthony Conner made a nice read on an underneath pass and picked him off.  A couple long Anderson runs and Teddy's only completion of the game - a nice crossing route by Copeland down inside the 5 - set up a quick slant TD from Stein to Andrell Smith for a 17-3 lead late in the fourth quarter.

As is wont to happen in these sorts of games, UK made a furious late comeback, scoring a TD with 45 seconds left after converting a long 4th down the play before.  However, the onside kick was safely secured by Michaelee Harris and Stein took the Sunniest Victory Formation Kneel Ever and the Cards snapped a long, long losing streak to the hated Wildcats 17-10.

The stats are skewed because it was an actual game, not a simmed one, but Corvin Lamb was the star for the Cards stepping in for the injured (just short-term) Wright.  Including the long TD, he racked up 85 yards on 5 carries, while Vic had a couple nice runs but overall was limited to 47 yards on 9 carries. 

UK sucks. Not sure what would have happened if I had simmed it (I'm guessing a loss which is also why I didn't sim it) but would be happy with this outcome obviously.

CardsFan922 IRL Prediction:  Hard to say without seeing both teams for two weeks and without going back over the summer preview stuff for UK.   But I really don't see how we should be or will be underdogs other than they have home field advantage and it is a night game.  Those can get pretty intense (the 2007 game has to rank as the most intense UofL-UK football game ever and possibly ahead of even some basketball games) and with a young team playing its first game on the road, you can see how a close game favors the Wildcats.  But I think the talent gap has closed, we have better coaches, and they lost waaaaaay more valuable players to their team than we did to ours.  We'll see.

Game 4 (3-0, 0-0) - Marshall @ Louisville

The Thundering Herd come to PJCS after a bye week after the UK game, which will make for an interesting home crowd.  If we've lost to the Cats for the (throw up in your mouth) 5th year in a row, the week off will be awful for the team at practice and for us following along at home and I imagine it will be tough to get the home crowd going.  Win, on the other hand, and the Era of Good Feelings will last through tailgating and right through kick-off.  Marshall doesn't care one way or the other.  And in the virtual game, the Cards strike first - Bellamy gets his first TD of the season on a Will Stein pass.  The defense gets its first points on a Conner 31-yard TAINT in the second quarter before Marshall gets on the board with a field goal. 

Vic gives us some momentum going into halftime by going into the endzone with less than a minute left for a 21-3 halftime lead.  The offense doesn't have the same easy time it did against the FIU's of the world, and is held to one TD in the second half, another Anderson run.  But the defense holds Marshall to 7 points on a 4th Quarter TD, and the game is never really in doubt.  Cards win 28-10.

Will Stein plays the whole game at QB, completing 50% of his 42 (preston) passes but throwing his first two INTs of the season.  With Wright out, Vic carried the load with 18 rushes for 91 yards, and Stein apparently is a mobile QB this year, because he had 8 carries for 53 yards.  Lamb had 6 for 23.  Lots of balls went to lots of guys: Bellamy caught 7 for 119 yards, Smith caught 5 for 76 yards, and Damien Copeland is holding off the super talented freshman and staying an integral part of the offense, catching it 3 times for 45 yards, a stellar 15 YPC.

Another game, another Marcus Smith standout performance: he led the team with 6 tackles and fellow DE BJ Butler contributed 5 along with DT Brandon Dunn.  Hakeem Smith has had a quiet season and only had 2 tackles this game after similar performances earlier in the season.  Conner had another INT besides the one that was taken for 6.  Dunn, Smith and DT Philon also had 1 sack apiece. 

Again, consider the competition, but the defense has been outstanding so far this season, yielding 10 points to the two best teams on the schedule so far and 0 points to the two other teams.  I'll take it.

So the journey across the bridge that is the 2011 season started off sorta anti-climactic.  I went back and forth on whether I should re-simulate the UK game, but I've decided that the uncertainty and not-officially-simmed status is appropriate.  Even this close to the season starting, we really don't know what we've got as a team.  We have the official depth chart, but there are only 4 people on defense (Hakeem Smith and the three starting LBs) that seem like they are that far ahead of the guys behind them.  We have a handful of freshman who will see significant time early and we have only heard whisper about them.  On offense, Bellamy and Smith are the only two known quantities - Wright and Anderson have the potential to be a great 1-2 punch, but both have battled injuries.  Other than that, lots of questions to be answered when we have the ball. 

So to the extent you can really get anything from the first four games of the Simulated Season as it will relate to the real season it is this: there's so much we don't know, it doesn't do much good worrying about what the computer or the pundits say.  And the sooner they can play the real games, the better.