March Madness 2017: College football bracket, first- and second-round winners

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  CBS Sports 128 , we’ve seeded the top 68 teams and spread them across four regions for a 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.

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.

First Four

EAST: (16) Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders def. (16) 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 and Missouri Tigers .

MIDWEST: (11) Kentucky Wildcats def. (11) 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. 

SOUTH: (16) Vanderbilt Commodores def (16) 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. 

WEST: (11) Indiana Hoosiers def. (11) 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

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith

(1) Clemson Tigers 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.

(8) Temple Owls def. (9) Navy Midshipmen 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.

(4) Florida Gators def. (13) Georgia Bulldogs : 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.

(11) Troy Trojans def. (6) 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.

(3) Michigan Wolverines def. (14) NC State Wolfpack The WolfPack cannot take advantage of a Jabrill Peppers-less Wolverines the same way Florida State Seminoles and Dalvin Cook did in the Orange Bowl.

(7) Tennessee Volunteers def. (10) Appalachian State Mountaineers A fourth regular-season rematch in this first round, the Volunteers needed a Jalen Hurd to recover Joshua Dobbs ’ 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.

(2) Penn State Nittany Lions def. (15) Ohio Bobcats A breeze for the Nittany Lions, though the Bobcats were tough late in the year against Western Michigan Broncos and Troy.

MIDWEST REGION by Chip Patterson, Brandon Wise

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith

(1) Oklahoma Sooners def. (16) Wake Forest Demon Deacons Defense be damned. Baker Mayfield , Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon run all over the Demon Deacons in this first round matchup. 

(8) Tulsa Golden Hurricane def. (9) Iowa Hawkeyes 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.

(12) Memphis Tigers def. (5) Louisville Cardinals 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 Purdue Boilermakers . The Hilltoppers have the speed to keep up with Kentucky and their offense is second to none. Points will be scored. 

(3) Oklahoma State Cowboys def. (14) 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 Mason Rudolph is not playing any games as the Cowboys roll. 

(10) Air Force Falcons def. (7) 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. 

(2) Ohio State Buckeyes def. (15) Northwestern Wildcats 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

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith

(1) 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. 

(8) Kansas State Wildcats def. (9) 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. 

(5) South Florida Bulls def. (12) Toledo Rockets 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. 

(4) LSU Tigers def (13) Arkansas Razorbacks LSU won the regular season meeting 38-10, and the tournament wasn’t much kinder to the Hogs. Derrius Guice goes off for 176 yards and three scores as LSU pulls away. 

(11) Texas A&M def (6) Auburn Tigers 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 Corey Davis on defense. 

(10) Pitt def. (7) Nebraska Cornhuskers 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) Baylor Bears : 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

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith

(1) Southern California Trojans def. (16) 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.

(9) Houston Cougars def. (8) 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.

(5) Stanford Cardinal def. (12) Brigham Young Cougars :  Christian McCaffrey 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.

(13) Old Dominion Monarchs def. (4) Colorado Buffaloes And we have our first lower-seed upset in the West region. Colorado’s magical turnaround season comes to a bitter end with quarterback Sefo Liufau once again unfortunately succumbing to injuries.

(6) Utah Utes 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. 

(3) Wisconsin Badgers def. (14) Wyoming Cowboys Surprise shootout! Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen 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 Donnel Pumphrey all the way to 10 regular-season wins. They get one more in a tight one over the Golden Gophers.

(2) Washington Huskies def. (15) Idaho Vandals 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 Jake Browning connects with John Ross a few times. Thanks for playing, Idaho.

Round of 32

EAST REGION

(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.

MIDWEST REGION

(1) Oklahoma def. (8) Tulsa: So much for the miracle. Tulsa simply have no answer on defense for Mayfield and Dede Westbrook . 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 Mike White 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. J.T. Barrett will find a way to expose the Falcons’ passing defense, especially with Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown creating space. 

SOUTH REGION

(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. 

WEST REGION

(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 Solomon Thomas , 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 Joe Williams 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.

Sweet 16 (next week)

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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith
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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith
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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith
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Graphic illustration by Michael Meredith
CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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