The opening rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament have come and gone with the Sweet 16 beginning Thursday night. And while the single-elimination format is not necessarily the best way to determine a champion, it does heighten the competition and allow for Cinderella surprises that can rock the sport. In other words, it's a lot of fun and makes good on the "March Madness" moniker.
Well, we're sick of being left out, so we decided to get in on the fun. Using our final rankings from the CBS Sports 130, we have seeded the top 64 college football teams and spread them across four regions for a March Madness tournament of the college football variety. In consultation with our expert bracketologist Jerry Palm, we provided location preferences to the top seeds and aligned the others in a similar fashion to how the NCAA Selection Committee would. Of course, when it comes to football, it is more difficult to ensure conference opponents do not play until later in the tournament -- but we did our best.
Our staff has predicted the winners the first and second rounds. Next week, we will pick winners of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, followed by the Final Four and national championship. Let's get to it.
All graphic illustrations below are courtesy of Michael Meredith.
Atlanta Region by Barton Simmons
- (1) Alabama def. (16) Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech slows down the game and keeps it close for a half, but it just can't compete with the size for Bama on offense. The Tide don't need Tua for this one.
- (9) Troy upsets (8) Louisville: A first-round win is a program changer for Troy, while Louisville is just wrapping up the loose ends on a disappointing year. Motivation is the difference in a slight first-round upset.
- (12) Kansas State upsets (5) South Florida: Kansas State uses its 13th ranked rushing defense to make USF one-dimensional. When that happens, DJ Reed capitalizes to force a few big plays on the outside and Kansas State does what Texas Tech couldn't to USF in the postseason.
- (4) Oklahoma State def. (13) Missouri: Two spread, pass-happy teams with questionable defenses, Oklahoma State is just a better version of Missouri and they show it with a shoot-out win. Take the over.
- (6) LSU def. (11) West Virginia: Backup quarterback Chris Chugunov just doesn't have enough to give the Mountaineers a chance against an LSU team clicking on defense. He throws a pick-six to Donte Jackson and Derrius Guice runs for 150 yards in an LSU win.
- (14) Florida State upsets (3) Miami: The Canes averaged +16.5 point differential at the friendly confines of Hard Rock Stadium. In road and neutral site games, that number dipped to +4. Florida State rallies around interim coach Odell Haggins and pulls off the shocker in Atlanta.
- (7) FAU def. (10) San Diego State: The dreaded body clock comes into play as San Diego State's players are a little groggy playing on the East Coast and despite a valiant effort by Rashaad Penny, there's no stopping the Lane Train.
- (2) Ohio State def. (15) Ole Miss: This one is never close. Ole Miss just can't find a way to block that talented Buckeye front, and Ohio State never has to test the downfield passing game because Ole Miss' 124th ranked rushing defense gives up 180 to JK Dobbins.
(1) Alabama def. (9) Troy: After a tricky first round game, Alabama just has too much horsepower for Troy to ever hang around. The Crimson Tide round into playoff form with a game that's never close.
(4) Oklahoma State def. (12) Kansas State: The Wildcats shocked the Cowboys in Stillwater as a 19.5-point underdog earlier in the year. This time, OSU sees it coming and gets revenge as Mason Rudolph goes off with a(nother) 400+ yard day.
(14) Florida State upsets (6) LSU: How about FSU putting on Cinderella's slipper? After a first-round win, it hasn't felt better all season right as LSU is stumbling to the finish line. Noles by 14 behind a big Cam Akers rushing day.
(2) Ohio State vs. (7) FAU: The Lane Train comes to a screeching halt at the hands of Urban Meyer. JT Barrett runs for 150 and throws for 250 as the Buckeyes cruise.
Boston Region by Barrett Sallee
- (1) Georgia def. (16) Arkansas State: Too much Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Jake Fromm and that filthy Bulldog defense. Georgia would cruise.
- (8) Iowa def. (9) Army: That triple option is hard to prepare for, but the Hawkeyes move on thanks to extended time to prepare for it.
- (5) Michigan State def. (12) Arizona State: The stout Spartans defense will do enough to withstand pressure from the Sun Devils' offense and avoid the dreaded 12-5 upset.
- (4) Notre Dame def. (13) Duke: No way the Blue Devils will be able to slow down the Josh Adams express. The Fighting Irish run wild against a defense that can't match their speed.
- (6) Virginia Tech def. (11) Ohio: Heh, please ... nobody on Ohio's offensive line will be able to slow down a Hokie defense that finished tied for 11th nationally in tackles for loss.
- (3) Auburn def. (14) Navy: Auburn will be plenty-motivated for the Midshipmen, Kerryon Johnson will be hypothetically healthy, and the Tigers will cruise.
- (10) Boston College upsets (7) NC State: Give me the Eagles in an upset as AJ Dillon tears up the Wolfpack's front seven.
- (2) Penn State def. (15) Northern Illinois: Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and DaeSean Hamilton go nuts, and the backups get plenty of work.
(1) Georgia def. (8) Iowa: The Hawkeyes had a sneaky-good offense in 2017, but there will be no Ohio State-like upset in Round 2. Bulldogs pull away late.
(4) Notre Dame def. (5) Michigan State: We saw this game in late September, and it didn't go well for the Spartans. While they got on a roll later in the year, they'd still struggle against a Fighting Irish team that can simply out-athlete them.
(6) Virginia Tech def. (3) Auburn: Too much Josh Jackson, as the Hokies quarterback forces Auburn into a high-scoring affair and Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham makes a late mistake -- just like the real Peach Bowl.
(2) Penn State def. (10) Boston College: The Eagles run ends at the hands of McSorley, who goes wild in the fourth quarter to pull away late.
Omaha Region by Ben Kercheval
- (1) Oklahoma def. (16) Houston: The Cougars won this game at the start of the 2016 season, but the 2017 Sooners are a different beast. Baker Mayfield is college football's most efficient quarterback (again) and this attacking, creative offense is just too much for Houston's best defender, Ed Oliver, to single-handedly slow. Even against one of the AAC's best defenses, Oklahoma makes simple work of things by halftime.
- (8) Iowa State def. (9) Toledo: The Matt Campbell Bowl is dripping with first-round intrigue. The Toledo offense, led by the trio of Logan Woodside, Diontae Johnson and Terry Swanson, is a force. However, Iowa State's defense was the most improved unit in the Big 12 over the past year. This is a compelling one that goes way into the fourth quarter, but Iowa State has just enough defense to come away with a four-point victory.
- (5) Memphis def. (12) Arizona: To me, watching this game is like Randy Marsh watching the Food Network. Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate alone makes this a back-and-forth affair. Good thing Memphis' offense, which ranked second in the nation last season, is up to the challenge. Tate is a game-changer for sure, but in the end Memphis is too much in a shootout that comes just shy of 100 combined points.
- (4) Washington def. (13) Appalachian State: Near upset! Appalachian State makes Washington sweat with a halftime lead, but the Huskies' defensive front takes over in the second half. A late interception from Washington's secondary -- which is finally healthy -- closes the door on App State's upset bid.
- (11) Purdue upsets (6) Boise State: If there's one thing I don't want to see as an opposing coach, it's Jeff Brohm with time to draw up a scheme for the Boilermakers. It's not pretty outside of a couple of fun tricks by both offenses, but Purdue's defense rises to the occasion for the win.
- (3) TCU def. (14) UAB: The return of UAB football is a hell of a story. You won't find one person outside of Fort Worth who doesn't want to see the Blazers make a run. But that TCU defense has only been consistently burned by one person: Mayfield. And he doesn't play for UAB. TCU handles its business here.
- (7) Wake Forest def. (10) Texas: The #Clawfense of Wake Forest against a Texas team that always finds a way to make things interesting means this is the first-round matchup you didn't realize you needed. The Longhorns are a tough team to trust, though, especially in close games. Wake gets the W and advances.
- (2) Clemson def. (15) Texas Tech: Clemson's offense doesn't possess the same explosiveness that it did when it won the national championship. That's a good thing for Texas Tech's defense. The Red Raiders still give up plenty of yards and points, but this year's group, when healthy, is better equipped to make opposing offenses earn it. With a chip on its shoulder and coach Kliff Kingsbury drawing up some killer plays, Tech keeps this thing closer than the experts predict. Clemson is happy to survive and advance.
(1) Oklahoma def. (8) Iowa State: Here's what you don't want: Mayfield with his eyes set on revenge. Iowa State's ground game with David Montgomery continues to give the Sooners' defense fits, but Mayfield is hellbent on avenging the regular-season loss to the Cyclones. Oklahoma by eight.
(4) Washington def. (5) Memphis: For the second game in a row, Washington gets tangled early with an inspired Group of Five (or Power Six, whatever) opponent. Memphis' offense does some damage early, but once again the Washington defense stiffens in the second half. On offense, Huskies receiver Dante Pettis comes up with a few big plays late, including a big-time punt return for a score to flip the scoreboard.
(3) TCU def. (11) Purdue: Brohm is a hell of a coach, but his team can only do so much against Gary Patterson's defense. The Boilermakers' surprise season comes to a close with the Frogs moving on to the Sweet 16.
(2) Clemson def. (7) Wake Forest: Kelly Bryant left with an injury when these two played earlier in the season, but the Tigers were comfortably up 21-0 at the time. With Bryant healthy again, Clemson takes care of the Deacs for the second straight time.
Los Angeles Region by Tom Fornelli
- (1) UCF def. (16) Kentucky: UCF's perfect season remains intact with a surprisingly easy 31-17 win over Kentucky. UCF's offense just overpowered a worn-out Kentucky defense in the second half.
- (8) Washington State def. (9) Michigan: My initial reaction was to think Michigan would win this game, but there was a theme to the Wolverines season in 2017. They beat the bad teams and struggled against those with a pulse. Wazzu had a pulse in 2017, and with an improved defense, it also had too much offensive firepower for Michigan to keep up with. Washington State 34-21.
- (5) Northwestern def. (12) Utah: Northwestern entered this game on a seven-game win streak and stretched it to eight against a Utah team that limped to the finish line. Cats win 38-17.
- (4) Stanford def. (13) Texas A&M: Texas A&M plays like a team that knows its coach is about to be fired, as Stanford barely needs to break a sweat in a 27-14 victory.
- (11) Oregon upsets (6) Mississippi State: A tale of two teams with QBs on the opposite sides of an injury. The loss of Nick Fitzgerald cripples Mississippi State, while the return of Justin Herbert is a boost for Oregon. Ducks win 38-28.
- (3) USC def. (14) Colorado State: Thanks for showing up, Colorado State. The Rams hang for a quarter and then the talent sets in. Trojans win 42-17.
- (7) South Carolina def. (10) Fresno State: Nobody would consider anything this South Carolina team does to be pretty, but wins don't have to be pretty in the tournament, they just have to be wins. Gamecocks squeeze by 17-14.
- (2) Wisconsin def. (15) North Texas: North Texas just can't deal with those big, beefy Badgers. Wisconsin wins easily, 38-10.
(1) UCF def. (8) Washington State: Wazzu gives UCF a major scare in one of the more entertaining games of the tournament, but a late UCF touchdown drive caps off a thrilling 48-45 win.
(4) Stanford def. (5) Northwestern: Revenge of the Nerds: Stanford gets it's vengeance for the Body Clock Debacle (Declockle?) of 2015 as the Cardinal win 24-21.
(3) USC def. (11) Oregon: These Pac-12 foes didn't meet during the regular season, but they meet here. Herbert's return has rejuvenated the Ducks -- just not enough to lead them past the Trojans. Ronald Jones rushes for three scores as the USC defense keeps Royce Freeman in check. Trojans 31-21.
(2) Wisconsin def. (7) South Carolina: Wisconsin breezes through its second opponent of the tournament, crushing an overwhelmed Gamecocks squad 31-14.
Here's where we stand after the first 32 games have been played. Sweet 16 and Elite Eight winners will be announced next week.