How come the hoops junkies get to have all the fun in March?
Yeah, we have spring football to keep us from going into complete withdrawal, but that’s not the same as the real thing.
So we’re going to take a page out of Washington State coach Mike Leach’s playbook and create our own version of March Madness in football. Leach has suggested college football should reduce the number of regular-season games to 10 and use a 64-team field to decide the national championship.
We’ve heeded his call — and using ESPN’s preseason FPI rankings as a guide — have seeded the teams 1-64 and will play out the 2017 postseason round by round, just like they do in hoops.
Sit back, second-guess away (as if that ever happens in college football) and have some fun. Remember, there’s a lot of projection involved and maybe even some fantasy, too. I can already hear “One Shining Moment” playing in the background.
We’ll cut it down to the Sweet 16 today.
1-seeds: Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida State
2-seeds: Auburn, LSU, Clemson, Penn State
3-seeds: Washington, Wisconsin, Stanford, USC
4-seeds: Georgia, Louisville, Florida, Miami
5-seeds: Notre Dame, Michigan, TCU, Tennessee
6-seeds: Oregon, NC State, UCLA, Texas
7-seeds: Washington State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor
8-seeds: Northwestern, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Kansas State
9-seeds: Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State
10-seeds: Iowa, Ole Miss, Arizona State, Georgia Tech
11-seeds: Pittsburgh, Colorado, Memphis, Missouri
12-seeds: Texas Tech, Vanderbilt, Syracuse, Duke
13-seeds: Oregon State, South Florida, Utah, BYU
14-seeds: Nebraska, Arizona, Wake Forest, West Virginia
15-seeds: Indiana, Houston, Michigan State, Boise State
16-seeds: Minnesota, California, San Diego State, Colorado State
(1) Ohio State 45, (16) Colorado State 7: The Buckeyes had just one regular senior starter a year ago as a position player, center Pat Elflein, which means even with some of their junior defections to the NFL that they have way too much talent to get tripped up in the first round.
(2) Penn State 34, (15) Boise State 30: In a classic duel of quarterbacks, Penn State’s Trace McSorley throws a late touchdown pass to help the Nittany Lions escape and avoid the early exit. Even in defeat, Boise State’s Brett Rypien is outstanding and passes for 400 yards.
(3) USC 45, (14) West Virginia 24: Many in the Troy family are upset USC didn’t garner a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and the Trojans go out and play with a chip on their shoulder behind Sam Darnold‘s four touchdown passes.
(4) Miami 27, (13) BYU 21: The Hurricanes won nine games in Mark Richt’s first season back at his alma mater. They could be poised to top that in 2017, especially with an imposing front seven on defense that will be the difference in this game.
(12) Duke 28, (5) Tennessee 24: David Cutcliffe faces off against his old school, the same school that passed on him as head coach in 2010. In a back-and-forth affair, the Blue Devils pull off the vintage 5 vs. 12 upset, and Cutcliffe is heard humming “Rocky Top” as he leaves the field.
(6) Texas 31, (11) Missouri 20: The Tom Herman era is off and running, literally, at Texas. With Chris Warren III rushing for more than 200 yards behind one of the better offensive lines in the country, the Longhorns bully their way to a bruising first-round win.
(10) Georgia Tech 31, (7) Baylor 30: First-year Baylor coach Matt Rhule has his work cut out on a number of different fronts, but there’s still talent on the roster. The Bears’ problem in this game, though, is a Georgia Tech triple-option offense that gets hot and makes every big play down the stretch.
(8) Kansas State 34, (9) Mississippi State 21: The Bulldogs’ Nick Fitzgerald picks up where he left off last season and has a big game passing and running. But this is the most complete Kansas State team Bill Snyder has had in several years, and the Wildcats pull away in the fourth quarter.
(1) Ohio State 31, (8) Kansas State 13: Snyder is already in the College Football Hall of Fame, and Urban Meyer is a lock to follow him. So it’s one of those coaching matchups we all covet, but Meyer has too many difference-makers on his side for the Wildcats to ever make it close.
(2) Penn State 35, (10) Georgia Tech 20: The Nittany Lions didn’t get a chance to play for a national championship in 2016 despite winning the Big Ten title. They don’t leave anything to chance in 2017 and steamroll past the Yellow Jackets into the Sweet 16.
(3) USC 41, (6) Texas 23: There’s nothing like riding a hot quarterback in postseason play, and nobody’s hotter than Darnold. The Longhorns are able to match touchdowns in the first half, but Darnold’s eight touchdown passes in two tournament games are more than enough to keep the Trojans alive.
(4) Miami 31, (12) Duke 17: The Hurricanes don’t need countless laterals on a kickoff to win this showdown of ACC foes — just some good, old-fashioned defense that makes the Blue Devils one-dimensional. Duke is clearly drained emotionally after the first-round upset of Tennessee.
(1) Ohio State vs. (4) Miami
(2) Penn State vs. (3) USC
(1) Florida State 45, (16) Minnesota 13: P.J. Fleck gets to take his “Row the Boat” mantra to Minnesota as the Gophers’ first-year head coach. He’d also like to take the kind of success he had at Western Michigan with him, but it won’t be pretty against the big, bad Seminoles in the first round.
(2) Auburn 34, (15) Indiana 28: The Hoosiers maintain their high-scoring ways under first-year offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, which makes this game a lot tighter than anybody on the Plains would like. But Jarrett Stidham’s the real deal, and the Tigers pull it out in the fourth quarter.
(3) Washington 30, (14) Nebraska 21: John Ross might have raced his way into the NFL, but Jake Browning, having recovered nicely from his offseason shoulder surgery, still has Dante Pettis, and one of the Pac-12’s most potent big-play combos is too much for the Huskers’ secondary.
(4) Georgia 28, (13) Oregon State 23: Nick Chubb and Sony Michel take turns punching holes in Oregon State’s run defense, each on his way to a 100-yard rushing day, and the Bulldogs play keep-away from the Beavers in a first-round win.
(12) Texas Tech 48, (5) Notre Dame 45: Few teams are as comfortable in a shootout as Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders, and that’s what this game turns into. The Irish bounce back in 2017 with a big regular season, but can’t get out of the first round against a Texas Tech offense that just seems to reload.
(11) Pittsburgh 23, (6) Oregon 21: Pat Narduzzi knows a thing or two about defense, and his Panthers’ D comes up huge in the second half against a Ducks’ offense that starts fast but fails to convert on third down one too many times in the fourth quarter.
(7) Washington State 38, (10) Iowa 28: Luke Falk, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in college football in 2016, caps a star-studded regular season in 2017 with a 400-yard, five-touchdown performance to send the Cougars into the second round.
(8) Northwestern 27, (9) Arkansas 24: A third straight winning season for Northwestern only gets better in the first round of the tournament. The Wildcats lean heavily on Justin Jackson in the running game, and he says afterward that he came back for a fourth season just for these kinds of moments.
(1) Florida State 38, (8) Northwestern 14: Jimbo Fisher felt coming into the 2017 season that this would be one of his more talented clubs. We’ve seen nothing to dispute that theory through two rounds of the tournament. The Seminoles have been especially nasty on defense.
(7) Washington State 35, (2) Auburn 31: What an entertaining matchup of quarterbacks. Stidham is slinging the ball all over the field for the Tigers, but Falk is just a little bit better for the Cougars, who carry the Pac-12 banner into the Sweet 16.
(11) Pittsburgh 26, (3) Washington 24: In every NCAA tournament, there are upsets few people see coming. The Panthers do it for a second straight game, again thanks to their defense and forcing timely turnovers. The concern now at Pitt will be holding onto Narduzzi.
(4) Georgia 42, (12) Texas Tech 31: The Bulldogs brought Kirby Smart back to his alma mater to win championships, and he moves another stop closer to that goal after Georgia jumps out to a four-touchdown lead and then seals the game with its punishing running game.
(1) Florida State vs. (4) Georgia
(7) Washington State vs. (11) Pittsburgh
(1) Alabama 34, (16) San Diego State 0: Brian Daboll is the Crimson Tide’s fifth different offensive coordinator since the conclusion of the 2011 season, when Jim McElwain left to become Colorado State’s head coach. What doesn’t change at Alabama is the Tide’s penchant for playing suffocating defense, which is bad news for the Aztecs.
(2) Clemson 27, (15) Michigan State 16: The Tigers miss Deshaun Watson’s playmaking ability and clutch performances on offense, but there’s nothing wrong with that Clemson defense, particularly up front. The Spartans hang around, but simply can’t muster enough offense to ever really have a chance.
(3) Stanford 28, (14) Wake Forest 14: The Cardinal are able to control the line of scrimmage and keep the Deacons from moving the ball consistently, but it’s still a relatively close game until Bryce Love breaks off a couple of long touchdown runs in the second half.
(4) Florida 30, (13) Utah 17: In each of his first two seasons at Florida, McElwain guided the Gators to the SEC championship game, only to be bounced by Alabama (and rival Florida State a week earlier in the regular-season finale). No problems, though, for the Gators in the first round of football’s Big Dance.
(5) TCU 38, (12) Syracuse 17: Gary Patterson is too good a coach for the Horned Frogs to suffer through a second straight losing season, and they bounce back with a vengeance in 2017. Their younger players only get better down the stretch, and they open the tournament with a dismantling of the Orange.
(6) UCLA 35, (11) Memphis 14: New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is just what the doctor ordered for talented quarterback Josh Rosen, who throws for 300 yards and four touchdowns in the kind of win that helps ease the pain from the disappointing 4-8 finish in 2016.
(10) Arizona State 31, (7) Texas A&M 21: Alabama has been hard on Texas A&M in recent years, and it’s the Alabama connection that sends the Aggies packing in the first round. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier, in his first season at Arizona State after coming over from the Alabama staff, keeps A&M off balance with his play-calling, and Alabama transfer Blake Barnett plays mistake-free at quarterback for the Sun Devils.
(8) Virginia Tech 24, (9) Kentucky 20: Even with some of the key pieces from the 2016 team having departed, namely quarterback Jerod Evans, the Hokies keep the momentum going in Year No. 2 under Justin Fuente and win a close one over the Wildcats.
(1) Alabama 27, (8) Virginia Tech 6: Fuente needs another recruiting class or two to genuinely put his stamp on the Virginia Tech program. Although the Hokies don’t drop off in Year No. 2 under Fuente as much as some might have predicted, they’re still no match for the Crimson Tide.
(2) Clemson 38, (10) Arizona State 20: Napier knows the Clemson program well after serving two different stints with the Tigers, including two years as offensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately for Napier, though, he doesn’t have the horses up front to block the Tigers’ front four on defense.
(3) Stanford 30, (6) UCLA 24: No strangers to each other as Pac-12 brethren, the Cardinal and Bruins slug it out in a seesaw second-round contest that goes down to the final minutes. Stanford holds on after Rosen is intercepted in the end zone late.
(4) Florida 24, (5) TCU 21: Both of these teams can play defense, which makes for some ugly stretches on offense. The Gators have made a living of winning that way under McElwain, but they keep on winning and advance thanks to a late field goal.
(1) Alabama vs. (4) Florida
(2) Clemson vs. (3) Stanford
(1) Oklahoma 48, (16) California 31: First-year Cal coach Justin Wilcox might have a defensive background, but good luck in keeping this one from turning into a track meet. Then again, the Sooners seem to be in their element when the scoreboard’s getting a workout.
(2) LSU 27, (15) Houston 10: Ed Orgeron’s Cajun accent might be hard for some outside the Bayou to understand, but what’s clear is that he’s going to have a defense that will get after people and wreak havoc. The Cougars turn it over too much for this one to be close.
(3) Wisconsin 20, (14) Arizona 17: Paul Chryst has quietly been Mr. Steady at Wisconsin, and in his third season, he has the Badgers right back in the thick of the national race. He also has a quarterback, Alex Hornibrook, who has a knack for making clutch plays, and Hornibrook makes several of them in the fourth quarter to help the Badgers hold off the Wildcats.
(13) South Florida 32, (4) Louisville 31: It doesn’t take Charlie Strong long to make his mark in his new gig. The Bulls win 11 games in the regular season, cruise into the tournament red-hot and then upset Strong’s old team, Louisville, which suffers its second straight postseason disappointment.
(5) Michigan 41, (12) Vanderbilt 21: Eyebrows are raised in Ann Arbor when Michigan’s No. 5 seed is unveiled, but Jim Harbaugh bites his lip and instead uses it as motivation. Sure enough, the Wolverines come out breathing fire and overwhelm a determined but outmanned Vanderbilt club.
(11) Colorado 21, (6) NC State 17: Mike MacIntyre did a bang-up job at San Jose State and an even better job of reviving Colorado’s program. The Buffs’ defense dictates the flow of this game early and holds off a late Wolfpack drive to advance.
(7) Oklahoma State 42, (10) Ole Miss 21: The Rebels get a waiver from the NCAA to be able to play in the tournament, but run into one of the hottest quarterback-receiver combos in the country. Mason Rudolph and James Washington hook up for three touchdown passes in a game that’s never close.
(8) South Carolina 27, (9) North Carolina 21: In the Battle of the Carolinas, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks come out on top thanks to Jake Bentley‘s precision third-down passing and a key stop late by a defense that forces four turnovers in the game.
(1) Oklahoma 40, (8) South Carolina 17: His offseason brush with the law behind him, quarterback Baker Mayfield goes from 2017 Heisman Trophy winner to accounting for five or more touchdowns in his second consecutive tournament game against a South Carolina defense that simply runs out of gas.
(7) Oklahoma State 33, (2) LSU 28: The Tigers seriously recruited Rudolph and had a chance to sign him but passed. Now they have to face him, and he shows the college football world why he was one of the best quarterbacks in the country during the 2017 season.
(11) Colorado 23, (3) Wisconsin 17: The Buffs do it for a second straight game with the big upset, and once again, their defense is tremendous. First-year defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot inherited a unit that incurred heavy losses, but it’s hard to tell with the way Colorado is playing on that side of the ball.
(5) Michigan 28, (13) South Florida 21: One of the things that cost the Wolverines in their three 2016 losses was not being able to run the ball effectively enough. Well, that’s the difference in this game, as Chris Evans and a retooled offensive line consistently move the chains in the second half.
(1) Oklahoma vs. (5) Michigan
(7) Oklahoma State vs. (11) Colorado