The first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament tips off this Thursday, thus starting the best two days in sports. The single-elimination format isn’t the best way to determine a champion, but it does heighten the drama and allow for Cinderella runs. Above all, it’s fun and makes good on the “March Madness” moniker.
It’s with those two things in mind that we pose the following question: Why let college hoops have all the fun?
Using our final rankings from the March Madness tourney of the college football variety. We provided location preferences to the top seeds and aligned the others as appropriate, though we did not follow the Selection Committee’s charge of ensuring conference opponents do not play until later in the tournament., we’ve seeded the top 68 teams and spread them across four regions for a
In conjunction with the real tournament’s opening weekend, our staff predicted the winners of the play-in games along with the first and second rounds. Next week, we will predict the winners of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Two weeks from now, we’ll cover the Final Four and national championship. Let’s get to it.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Eastern Michigan Eagles
: It was an uneven season for both these teams, but MTSU hung with some tough competition in 2016, nearly knocking off
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
and taking down both
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Ole Miss Rebels
: Say goodnight to the Rebels. After a rough season in the SEC, Ole Miss checks out on its way to the offseason while the Wildcats are rolling into their first round matchup.
Arkansas State Red Wolves
: As you’d expect with Vandy, it’s a low-scoring affair. The Commodores’ defense suffocates the Red Wolves, and a late interception seals the deal.
Boston College Eagles
: There’s something about both of these teams that make it hard to avoid heart complications. The Eagles’ defense turns this game into a grinder, but they can’t muster enough points to take home the win.
Round of 64
EAST REGION by Adam Silverstein
def. (16) Middle Tennessee: A cakewalk for the Tigers, which blow out the Blue Raiders in the first half and rest their starters to prepare for the Round of 32.
: A rematch of their Dec. 3 game, the Owls once again take down the Midshipmen, though the score is closer than the first 24-point defeat.
(5) Miami vs. (12)
North Carolina Tar Heels
: A second regular-season rematch in the first round, the Canes get revenge on the Tar Heels for a 20-13 defeat back on Oct. 15. UM closed the season with four straight double-digit wins (including a rout of Pitt), while the Tar Heels faltered down the stretch.
: Let’s make it three regular-season rematches, this time a rivalry game. The Gators dispatched the Bulldogs 24-10 in their first meeting and not much would change here.
West Virginia Mountaineers
: While the Trojans may not have always played up to their opponents, the Mountaineers ended the season on a 4-3 stretch with double-digit losses to the three best teams they faced. A motivated Troy team knocks off WVU.
NC State Wolfpack
: The WolfPack cannot take advantage of a Jabrill Peppers-less Wolverines the same way
Florida State Seminoles
did in the Orange Bowl.
Appalachian State Mountaineers
: A fourth regular-season rematch in this first round, the Volunteers needed a
’ fumble in the end zone to beat the Mountaineers in overtime. Both teams surged late in the season, but Tennessee probably gets it done again.
Penn State Nittany Lions
: A breeze for the Nittany Lions, though the Bobcats were tough late in the year against
Western Michigan Broncos
MIDWEST REGION by Chip Patterson, Brandon Wise
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
: Defense be damned.
run all over the Demon Deacons in this first round matchup.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
: Look out for the Hurricane! Tulsa ended the season on a roll and continued it with a 55-10 thumping of
Central Michigan Chippewas
in its bowl game. Iowa, after getting crushed by Florida in its bowl game, is looking forward to its offseason.
: Who doesn’t love the 12-over-5 upsets? Memphis may have struggled against Western Kentucky in its bowl game, but the Tigers are fast and have the defense to contain Lamar Jackson’s speed.
(13) Louisiana Tech def. (4)
Virginia Tech Hokies
: Upset city! The Bulldogs are a team most didn’t watch this year but have one of the best passing attacks in the country. They will give a young Hokies secondary fits all night.
(6) Western Kentucky def. (11) Kentucky: Jeff Brohm’s farewell tour keeps on rolling as he prepares to head to
. The Hilltoppers have the speed to keep up with Kentucky and their offense is second to none. Points will be scored.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Colorado State Rams
: Sorry, Rams. You had a good run and that destruction of
San Diego State Aztecs
to get in the tournament was nice, but
is not playing any games as the Cowboys roll.
Air Force Falcons
Boise State Broncos
: A group of five battle in the first round. The Falcons end Boise State’s chance at a miracle run quickly after crushing the Broncos in a rematch from late in the season.
Ohio State Buckeyes
: Good ol’ Big Ten matchup here, but the Buckeyes are just too powerful for the Wildcats even at a neutral site. Ohio State gets by the Wildcats here, but it’s closer than you think — especially given that Northwestern gave Ohio State fits at the Horseshoe earlier this year.
SOUTH REGION by Tom Fornelli
Alabama Crimson Tide
def (16) Vanderbilt: Vandy hangs tight for a half, but the dam bursts in the second half as Alabama pulls away for a lopsided win.
Kansas State Wildcats
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
: Georgia Tech jumps out to a 17-3 lead in the first quarter, but Kansas State makes some adjustments and stifles the flexbone attack. After cutting the lead to 17-13 at halftime, the Wildcats take the lead late in the third and never look back, winning by a touchdown.
South Florida Bulls
: Defense optional! A back-and-forth affair that is the talk of Twitter sees the Bulls pull off a victory that goes into the 50s for both teams. Hope you took the over.
: LSU won the regular season meeting 38-10, and the tournament wasn’t much kinder to the Hogs.
goes off for 176 yards and three scores as LSU pulls away.
(11) Texas A&M def (6)
: The Aggies go into Jordan-Hare Stadium and beat the Tigers for the second time this season. Myles Garrett’s strip sack in the fourth quarter sets the Aggies up for the game-winning touchdown in the final minute.
(3) Western Michigan def. (14)
New Mexico Lobos
: New Mexico gives Western Michigan more than it bargained for early, but in the end, the Lobos just don’t have the answer for
(10) Pitt def. (7)
: The Pitt offense overwhelms Nebraska and the Cornhuskers fall into some turnover trouble in the second half. We’ll say the Panthers by two touchdowns as they pull away late.
(2) Florida State def. (15)
: Florida State uses Dalvin Cook to control the clock, and this one is never really in doubt, though a couple of late touchdowns make it look closer than it really was.
WEST REGION by Ben Kercheval
Southern California Trojans
TCU Horned Frogs
: You know by now that USC was considered the hottest team at the end of last season. TCU limps into the tourney losing four of its final six regular-season games. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson is a giant killer, but the Trojans have too much firepower. No 16-seed upset here. USC by three tuddies. Next.
Washington State Cougars
: Who knows what to make of the Cougars … either of them. Seriously. Both teams experienced incredible highs and lows throughout the year. An 8-9 matchup is as appropriate as it gets for this one. Houston tends to get up for big games, though. That’s the difference.
Brigham Young Cougars
isn’t sitting this one out. He’s the difference-maker in a thrilling offensive showcase that goes down to the wire. The Cardinal avoids the dreaded 12-over-5 upset … barely.
Old Dominion Monarchs
: And we have our first lower-seed upset in the West region. Colorado’s magical turnaround season comes to a bitter end with quarterback
once again unfortunately succumbing to injuries.
def. (11) Indiana: Hey! This game actually happened in the postseason! It’s not quite as close as the Utes’ 26-24 victory in the Foster Farms Bowl, but coach Kyle Whittingham gets it done again in a game decided by one score.
: Surprise shootout! Wyoming quarterback
carves up Wisconsin’s defense to take a surprising first-half lead. However, the Badgers’ ball-hawking defense stiffens up and Wyoming’s inability to stop the run proves costly. Wisconsin steals this one in the final minutes.
(7) San Diego State def. (10)
Minnesota Golden Gophers
: The Aztecs rode
all the way to 10 regular-season wins. They get one more in a tight one over the Golden Gophers.
: The Huskies enter postseason play a little banged up on defense — enough to make things interesting for a half against the Vandals, one of college football’s surprise teams. Then
a few times. Thanks for playing, Idaho.
Round of 32
(1) Clemson def. (8) Temple: There were only a few times during the season that the Tigers struggled, but they were usually against high-octane offenses. The Owls would definitely be a test, but Clemson sails through.
(5) Miami def. (4) Florida: A treat for fans from the Sunshine State in the second round, but not the best news for the Gators. Though UF stood tough against LSU late in the season, Miami would ultimately have too many weapons for Florida to rely solely on its defense. A close, one-score game that gets decided late in the fourth quarter.
(3) Michigan def. (11) Troy: The Wolverines would overwhelm the Trojans defensively and snuff out a Cinderella run before it even really got started.
(2) Penn State def. (7) Tennessee: Too much talent, poise and motivation for the Nittany Lions for the Vols to get by as they did late in the season. It might get ugly.
(1) Oklahoma def. (8) Tulsa: So much for the miracle. Tulsa simply have no answer on defense for Mayfield and
. Although the Golden Hurricane could score, they can’t stop the bleeding. This one borders on a classic opening-weekend game.
(12) Memphis def. (13) Louisiana Tech: A group of five team is into the Sweet 16. Although the Bulldogs are one of the hottest teams in the country, Memphis just has a few more athletes to overpower Louisiana Tech and move on.
(3) Oklahoma State def. (6) Western Kentucky: Man, defense be damned here. Mason Rudolph and
are lighting up the scoreboard here, but the Cowboys have just a little more firepower to fall back on and advance.
(2) Ohio State def. (10) Air Force: Air Force might have a powerhouse rushing attack, but Ohio State’s defense is just stifling.
will find a way to expose the Falcons’ passing defense, especially with
(1) Alabama def. (8) Kansas State: Bill Snyder may be magic, but he’s not magical enough to pull this one off. Alabama wins easily.
(4) LSU def. (5) South Florida: Much like when they played Florida State during the regular season, the Bulls come out firing against LSU, but they lose steam in the second half. Derrius Guice breaks free for a 69-yard touchdown to give LSU its first lead in the third quarter, and the Tigers hold on for a 34-28 win.
(11) Texas A&M def. (3) Western Michigan: PJ Fleck and Western Michigan may row their boat, but Kevin Sumlin’s got a swagged-out speed boat and it’s just too much for the Broncos.
(2) Florida State def. (10) Pitt: Pitt finds some success on offense, but the fact of the matter is its defense just can’t do anything to slow down Florida State. It’s a tight one, but the ‘Noles get the offense they need.
(1) USC def. (9) Houston: Again, the Cougars are capable of playing up to their competition, but USC is simply too much. The Trojans’ defense makes life miserable for Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. as he tries to play from behind. This one isn’t a runaway victory, but it’s never in doubt, either.
(5) Stanford def. (13) Old Dominion: The Monarchs got their upset, but the idea of putting them against McCaffrey and Cardinal defensive end
, two potential first-round picks, seems unfair. This one ends without a lot of drama.
(6) Utah def. (3) Wisconsin: If you enjoy three-hour games with fewer than 250 yards passing — total — then you’ll love this one. This was a tough pick, but I love the way Utes running back
dominated down the stretch.
(2) Washington def. (7) San Diego State: The Huskies’ front four prevents Pumphrey from having a breakout game. The Aztecs are a quality team, but Washington has too much beef in the trenches.