Breaking down the NCAA tournament bracket, football-style

By Christopher Kennedy

The NCAA men’s tournament started last night with the First Four. It’s a sports fan’s dream: games morning, noon and night. Sixty-eight teams found out their place in the tournament Sunday. But what if each school’s football team was slotted in instead? I filled out a bracket based on each team’s football prowess. Kentucky isn’t a superpower — it’s mediocre. Gonzaga forfeits — it doesn’t even have a team. Ohio State is the greatest 10-seed in tournament history.

Midwest region:

This is the weakest region on the board. Kentucky would struggle just to make it out of the second round. 

This region reeks of gridiron mediocrity. Cincinnati is the winningest team here with a 9-4 record in 2014. Nine of the teams here suffered losing records, and there are some real stinkers: Purdue (3-9), Kansas (3-9), and New Mexico State (2-10). It’s weak enough that a 4-8 Indiana team that doesn’t play defense will make a Sweet 16 run. 

Cincinnati and West Virginia meet in the second round, reuniting just one year after departing the Big East.

The Round of 32 game between Texas and Notre Dame is the best matchup in this region. Two of the most decorated programs in college football history face off in the second round. While neither team had a great 2014 season, the mere stature of these two programs makes it a must-watch. Notre Dame pulls it out and advances.

Midwest Regional champ:

Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish were just decent this year, but they’re better than anyone else in this region.

West region:

The West is not only the best region for the actual basketball tournament, but it is the top region for our purpose here as well. Not only is there national champ Ohio State, but four other “New Year’s Six” bowl teams: Oregon, Ole Miss, Baylor and Arizona. The second round alone includes matchups of Ohio State-Arizona, Baylor-Ole Miss and Wisconsin-Oregon. 

The Buckeyes would get a first-round bye against the non-existent VCU Rams, but then face Arizona, Baylor, and Oregon in order to get to the Final Four. It’s a murderers’ row, but the Buckeyes can handle adversity. The Elite Eight would bring us a rematch of the national championship — Ohio State against Oregon. What more can you ask for? 

Ohio State controlled the national championship, and will do the same here.

West regional champ:

Ohio State: The Buckeyes were invincible in the College Football Playoff. I expect the same in my bracket.

East region:

The second best region features several quality FBS programs. It also features some victories for FCS teams. Northern Iowa is a top FCS team and takes down a mediocre Wyoming in the first round. Boise State gets a legendary second-round matchup with Oklahoma, the best game of this whole region — a rematch of one of the greatest games in the history of college football. 

While Oklahoma isn’t the same caliber team that it was in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, it’s another tight one that Boise State pulls out — they always seem to play well in the postseason.

The Elite Eight features a showdown of great defenses in Michigan State and LSU. Michigan State is always a threat to make a tourney run in basketball, and I expect the same here. The Spartans only lost to the national champs and the runner-ups this year in football. Though they have to go through Boise State and LSU, they make a deep run in my bracket.

East regional champ:

Michigan State: Boise State could be a football Cinderella if this bracket was actually played out, but I couldn’t see them beating Michigan State. The Spartans finished the year strong and only lost to Oregon and Ohio State.

South regional:

This is the region of bracket busters, and it starts in the bottom of the bracket. 15-seed North Dakota State is my Cinderella. The national champs four years running in FCS get a chance to play with the big boys and make it count in a run to the Sweet 16. 

Duke’s football team has been on the rise and makes it to the Elite Eight. In the second round, Eastern Washington, an elite FCS team, takes down Utah in one of the bracket’s biggest upsets. 

UCLA vs. North Dakota State is my favorite matchup in this region. The Bison have won games against FBS teams every year since 2010, but UCLA is the best team they’ve had to play. UCLA underachieved last year, but still finished in the top 10 — Brett Hundley and the Bruins are too much for the Bison in the Sweet 16 and Cinderella goes home early. 

Regional champ:

UCLA: The Bruins finished the season with a bowl win and a top-10 ranking. They’re able to fend off upset bids from NDSU and Duke to reach the Final Four.

Final Four:

On one side of the bracket, Ohio State takes on Notre Dame in a game between two of the biggest names in college football. Notre Dame made too many mistakes last season: the Irish are just happy to be there, but the Buckeyes continue their march to a title.

On the other side, UCLA and Michigan State face off in a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 showdown befitting of The Rose Bowl. UCLA’s athletic offense faces off against a staunch Michigan State defense. The difference in this one is that the Spartans will score, which will prove to be too much for the Bruins.

It’s a Big Ten national championship between Ohio State and Michigan State and it’ll be closer than the Buckeyes’ 12-point win in East Lansing in the fall. Ohio State dominated its opponents in the post-season, and they top the Spartans in my bracket. There’s no reason to believe the Buckeyes wouldn’t come out on top, whether in a field of four or 68.

Chris is a sophomore in Media.

[email protected]

@ChrisKennedy_4