Because there wasn't anything that I felt compelled to write about today and because I'm also a huge dork, I've decided that today's post is going to cover what was possibly the greatest, as well as most tumultuous season of video game football in my illustrious career.
Each year I eagerly anticipate the release of EA Sports' NCAA Football. I thoroughly enjoy the Madden series, but my unabashed love for all things related to the University of Florida make this the game which I choose to use for the colossal waste of time and brainpower that is the "Dynasty" mode (or Franchise if you play Madden). I've been doing this for years and have won a number of National titles, even as the Gators slipped from college football's upper echelon. Yes, I am an amazing coach, thanks for noticing. So you can imagine my excitement this summer as I anticipated a video version of a powerhouse Gator team that I would lead to Pasadena and a National Title. I normally start my season up the day I buy this game. However, last year I had my buddy John use his prodigous video game skills to download each and every player's name (in the entire game) to my Playstation. For example, instead of the computer screen showing "QB #12" on my screen it now came up "Chris Leak". After a year of gaming with this sort of technological advance I could hardly go back to the stone ages. As a result, I didn't get moving on my season until I was able to figure out how to do this on my own. Why didn't I just get John to do it again for me? Well, because John is a tree hugger and he lives in Montana now with his gay lover Joe McGrail. John offered to do it for me if I sent him my memory card but I'll be damned if I'm going to pay the $75 shipping charge just because one of my friends (I'm using this term liberally) decided to move to Siberia. Despite the challenges I got started on my season in mid-September.
Right off the bat there was trouble for the Gator Nation. Before the season opener, DeShawn Wynn cheated on a test and the University recommended that I suspend him for 3 games. I listened to my administration and, with an eye towards Tennessee in Week 3, decided to suspend DeShawn for 2 games. I might be a discplinarian, but I'm not stupid. Predictably, the Gators blew through both Wyoming and La. Tech with no problems. Wynn's backup, Skyler Thornton, took advantage of his opportunity by rushing for over 200 yards in each game.
The Gators came in to Week 3 undefeated and I had DeShawn Wynn back in the lineup. The game was tight early on but eventually Florida pulled away behind a 3 interception effort from the defense as well as 253 yards rushing from Wynn. Wynn was so impressive that he even garnered NCAA Player of the Week honors for his efforts against the Vols.
Sadly, DeShawn's time in the spotlight would be short lived. He came out the very next week against Kentucky and fumbled the ball on two of his first four carries. The game was never in doubt but I preach ball security. After his second fumble I benched Wynn and brought Thronton back in. Skyler was having a great game as the Gators were cruising midway through the third stanza. Late in the third quarter, I sent my first team offense out for one final drive. The offense proceeded to steadily move down the field and ended up on the Kentucky 18 with just 8 seconds left in the third. In an attempt to get Chris Leak one more TD before yanking him and the rest of my starters for the fourth quarter, I called an inside wheel route for Chad Jackson. Mistake...Big Mistake. As Leak dropped back there was a heavy blitz coming but he still managed to buy enough time to get a pass off to the end zone. The pass fell incomplete. The camera then shifted back to the 23 (or so) yard line where my field general was writhing in pain. I immediately began to question my playcalling, same as I would've had something like this happened in real life. I just hoped his injury wasn't serious. My hopes quickly crashed when I learned that Chris Leak was out for the season with a broken leg. The Gators would go on to a lopsided victory against Kentucky but there would be no celebration afterwards, just alot of worry about my QB situation.
The next week brought a home game against Mississippi State. They came into the game undefeated and ready to welcome my new starter, Gavin Dickey, to the SEC. Surprisingly, it wasn't Dickey who MSU gave fits to on this day. It was my #1 ranked defense. This previously dominant unit gave up a ton of yards both on the ground and through the air, even allowing a last second TD as the Gators fell 49-46. A loss is never a good thing, especially in the SEC. However, I took encouragement from Dickey's performance as it was evidence that he could handle the pressures of leading a team in the most tense of moments.
As the year went on, the Gator offense continued to be a force of nature and the defense returned to it's previously dominant self. Even the special teams got into the act as Vernell Brown took back two punts for TDs in a win against #7 ranked LSU. Dickey was remarkably efficient, throwing for 24 TDs while only tossing 4 picks all year. His main target was none other than Chad Jackson who ended up with something along the lines of 50 catches, 1500 yards and 21 TDS. Needless to say, he was a top Heisman candidate. Skyler Thornton also managed to make the Gator faithful forget about their former #1 tailback as he rushed for over 1600 yards and 18 TDs while also garnering an invite to the Heisman ceremonies in New York.
The University of Florida would go undefeated the rest of the regular season. They then met the LSU Tigers in the SEC Championship and walked away with a comfortable victory and a spot in the National Championship game against (heavily) favored USC. USC was led by Matt Leinart (of course). Leinart's main competition for the Heisman was Chad Jackson, though most (meaning: me) thought that Jackson didn't have a chance. As it turns out, in some of the closest voting of all time, Jackson surprised everyone by walking away with the Heisman. A frustrated and surprised Leinart declared, "We'll see whose the best player in the country in Pasadena." (note: that quote is totally fictional)
That's exaclty where the season's final game found us. The Rose Bowl was rocking, filled with Maroon and Gold clad supporters awaiting the coronation of their beloved Trojans. They would soon find out that the Gators had different plans. Behind a stifling defense the Gators jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead. The second half was following a similar path midway through the third quarter when suddenly Gavin Dickey remembered he was a second string QB. After only throwing three ints all season, Dickey short circuited and threw picks on three of the next four possessions. After it was all said and done, USC was sitting on a 24-17 lead with just over four minutes to play. Florida's season had fallen apart before it's very eyes, or so it seemed. Dickey stepped back on the field and confidently led the Gators down the field while relying heavily on Heisman winner Chad Jackson. It was now 24-24 with a little over two minutes left. Southpaw QB Matt Leinart led his troops back out for what many figured would be the game winning drive. Yet, unlike the rest of the second half the Gator defense stood tall and forced the Trojans into a three and out. After a fair catch on the ensuing punt the Gators were left with just under a minute to go and 75 yards of turf between them and a second ever National Title. With none of the hesistation that plagued him for much of the second half Dickey found Jackson on two of his first four attempts. Finally with the ball just outside the 20, Dickey dropped back and found Jackson in the end zone with 15 seconds left. Gators 31- USC 24. That's exaclty how it would end. Chad Jackson further proved his case as the best player in the land with 11 catches for over 200 yards and 3 TDs. I could be wrong but I swear I saw him point at the video game version of Leinart and then give him the throat slash. Either way, the Gators won in what my Playstation told me was the #2 Greatest Game that I've ever been a part of.
Of course, their is no rest if you aspire to true greatness so I dove right into my offseason. I soon found out that Chris Leak would be ready to go for the upcoming season and that Skyler Thornton had decided to stay for his senior season. In light of losing Chad Jackson to the the NFL Draft, this was great news. Though it did raise a series of tough questions that would plague the University of Florida for the entire grueling off-season. Questions such as:
-Can you bench a QB who won you a National Title? What about if your former starter is clearly the better of the two QBs?
-Can the Gators find the right combination of players to replace a senior laden offensive line that was the best in the country?
- Can Skyler Thornton hold off a hungry and more talented DeShawn Wynn in what will be the final season for each of them?
-Will my girlfriend finally realize what a loser I am and break up with me after she reads this?
Only time will tell...only time will tell.