What a college football 64-team playoff bracket would look like in 2021

Why would basketball be fun in March?

Even better: Why limit college football to four playoff teams? It’s much more fun with 64 teams… and much more representative.

This is the format for ESPN’s fake 2021 NCAA football tournament: We’ve ranked the teams from 1 to 64, and the rankings are largely based on the latest ESPN SP+ predictions for the 2021 season. The top four teams are Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma (yes, the usual suspects). Since the Sooners are the fourth No. 1 seed, that means they are headed to the West Region.

Seeds are just seeds. So, yes, there will be turmoil. There always is, especially in the early rounds. We’re going to keep things interesting, create exciting storylines and maybe cause a little angst for some fans.

And before anyone gets the idea to turn him in: We are aware that no one has played against anyone coming to the tournament.

Today, we’ll go around the field and look at the first two rounds of the tournament to narrow it down from 64 to 16. Then we play the rest of the games and crown the champion with Luther Vandross’ One Shining Moment playing in the background.


1 seed: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio, Oklahoma.

2 sides: Georgia, Iowa, Miami, Oregon.

3 seeds : Florida, Wisconsin, Washington, Texas A&M.

4 seeds : North Carolina, Cincinnati, Penn State, Iowa.

5 seeds : USC, Louisiana, Utah, Arizona.

6 seeds : Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Texas, Michigan…

7-7 families : LSU, Indiana, Auburn, CA.

8 seeds : Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Minnesota, TCU.

9 seeds : West Virginia, Maryland, Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State.

10 seeds : Virginia Tech, UCF, Boise State, Liberty.

11 seeds : Purdue, Pittsburgh, Arkansas, Mississippi.

12 seeds : North Carolina State, Washington State, Louisville, Army.

13 seeds : Colorado, Northwestern, Baylor, BYU.

14 seeds : SMU, Kentucky, Tulsa, Georgia Tech.

15 seeds : Tennessee, Memphis, Missouri, Oregon.

16 seeds : Virginia, Kansas, Florida, Michigan.

The first four: Wake Forest, Cal, Boston College, Stanford.

Three of the four top-seeded players in the tournament played in the College Football Playoff last season, including Nick Saban of Alabama and Ryan Day of Ohio State. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee



(1) Alabama 45, (16) Michigan State 7 : Like the last time these two teams met in the 2015 semifinals in Arlington, Texas, this is not a big deal. The Spartans did manage to score this time, but it was a late touchdown.

(2) Oregon 31, (15) Oregon State 13 : The alias has lapsed for this longstanding rivalry, but one thing that hasn’t changed is Oregon’s dominance. The Ducks win for the 13th time. In the last 15 meetings if you count regular season wins, which weakens the idea that the Beavers could thwart the Ducks in 2020.

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(3) Texas A&M 31, (14) Georgia Tech 3 : The 2020 Aggies welcomed 20 of 22 players to their defensive depth chart, and it’s a defense that is showing its muscle to open the tournament. The Yellow Jackets controlled the gate for the first quarter of the game and were contained the rest of the way.

(4) Iowa 28, (13) BYU 21: BYU didn’t just lose star quarterback Zach Wilson from an 11-1 team last season. The Panthers lost most of their best players on both sides of the ball. They fight as hard as any Kalani Sitake team, but the Hawks manage to make two stops on defense in the fourth quarter to survive.

(12) Army 27, (5) Arizona State 24 : Herm Edwards’ Sun Devils are no strangers to the dreaded 5-on-12 curse. But in reality, it’s Army, who still has a strong running game, that makes the difference, as the Black Knights have over 300 yards on the ground to bring about the surprise in the first round.

(6) Michigan 34, (11) Mississippi State 30 : Jim Harbaugh reorganized the coaching staff in the offseason and brought in six new assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Mike McDonald. Mississippi State’s offense under Mike Leach went for 350 yards, but Daxton Hill’s interception sealed the deal for the Wolverines.

(10) Liberty 35, (7) UCLA 28: After leading Liberty to a record 10 wins in his second season as coach in 2020, Hugh Freeze leads the Flames to their second consecutive season with 10 or more wins and sweeps the Bruins in the first round. UCLA had its chances, but failed to get the ball three times in the second half.

(8) TCU 27, (9) Appalachian State 20 : This is always a challenge for Gary Patterson’s defense, and even though the Horned Frogs lost some elite talent like Khari Coleman, Dee Winters and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson from the 2020 division, they were too much for the Mountaineers in the first round of the game.


(1) Alabama 38, (8) TCU 14 : TCU takes the lead before Hodges-Tomlinson returns the interception for a touchdown. But Alabama scored 31 points without an answer. Brian Robinson Jr. catches and runs 68 yards for a touchdown…. …to advance to the round of 16.

(10) Liberty 34, (2) Oregon 28 : If the college football world didn’t already know the name Malik Willis, it does now. Liberty’s versatile quarterback scored 280 yards passing, 120 yards rushing and four touchdowns to lead the Flames to their second win in a row.

(3) Texas A&M 33, (6) Michigan 17 : For the second game in a row in the tournament, Texas A&M’s defense held its opponent under 20 points. Michigan can’t do anything in the run game and is left in third-down situations, leaving Harbaugh with a new dose of tough questions to answer in the offseason.

(4) Iowa 23, (12) Army 21: Jeff Monken’s Black Knights were unable to rally for a second time despite the closing minutes of the game. Iowa running back Tyler Goodson, known for his speed and agility, proved he could take advantage of big yards with two third-down conversions in the fourth quarter to end the game for the Hawkeyes.


(1) Alabama v. (4) Iowa.

(3) Texas A&M vs. (10) Liberty.

Brian Robinson Jr. is a key figure for Alabama heading into the Round of 16. David Rosenbloom/Sportswire Icon/Getty Images



(1) Clemson 42, (16) Florida State 14 : Clearly, Dabo Swinney is still not thrilled about the fact that he arrived in Tallahassee a year ago and was told hours before the game that the game against Florida State would not be played. The Tigers limited the Seminoles to their second of two wins in 2021 and extended Clemson’s winning streak to seven consecutive games.

(2) Miami 35, (15) Missouri 16 : Manny Diaz, in his third season at the helm of Miami, has a talented and experienced team, and the Hurricanes wasted no time in beating the Tigers in the first round in a loss.

(3) Washington 34, (14) Tulsa 10 : After having the best winning percentage in the Pac-12 North a year ago, but not being able to compete for the Pac-12 Championship due to COVID-19 protocols, the Huskies have something to prove in 2021. They are very impressive in their openness.

(13) Baylor 24, (4) Penn State 20 : Dave Aranda’s defensive prowess worked wonders in the Bears’ first-round game against the Nittany Lions, who allowed just two touchdowns. After just two wins last year, there were some concerns about Baylor’s program, but early setbacks always have the ability to change the game.

(5) Utah 27, (12) Louisville 20 : Charlie Brewer, a quarterback who transferred from Baylor, leads Utah to its third division crown in the last four seasons in the Pac-12 before leading Utah down the field for a decisive touchdown in the closing minutes of a thrilling first round.

(6) Texas 34, (11) Arkansas 21 : In a game between old Southwest Conference rivals – and 52 years after the Game of the Century – the Longhorns provided junior Steve Sarkisian with his first win in the NCAA Tournament, in a game that no one doubted after the break.

(10) Boise State 35, (7) Auburn 31: You knew the selection committee would find a way to compete with these two teams in the first round after Brian Harsin left Boise State for Auburn in the offseason. The game did not disappoint either, as Boise State linebacker Riley Whimsical ended Auburn’s campaign with a key sack in the final moments.

9) Coastal Carolina 31, 8) Minnesota 27 : The Chanticleers have one of the best mascots in college football, one of the brightest young coaches in Jamey Chadwell and perhaps the most underrated quarterback in Grayson McCall. McCall has a big day with three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown to send the Chants to the second round.


(1) Clemson 34, (9) Coastal Carolina 31 : Of course Coastal Carolina would love to take on nationally ranked Clemson during the regular season, but a matchup in the NCAA Tournament would be even better. The odds were in their favor against the more talented Tigers, but Clemson won in overtime on a 51-yard field goal by B.T. Potter.

(2) Miami 30, (10) Boise State 21 : Miami quarterback D’Eric King has rebounded well in the offseason after tearing his ACL in a championship game last year. He played like a champion against Boise State, handed out assists to seven different players and led the Canes to the Sweet 16.

(6) Texas 28, (3) Washington 23 : Texas paid Sarkisian a hefty $34.2 million to bring him from Alabama to Forty Acres, and that investment is paying off for the Longhorns in his first season. And this time, the Texans’ defense pulled away when it needed to in the fourth quarter.

(5) Utah 24, (13) Baylor 10: Sometimes those who make it through the first round advance to the second round, and that’s exactly what happens for Baylor after eliminating Penn State to open the tournament. The Bears can’t do anything, and Utah doesn’t play in the second half.


(1) Clemson vs. (5) Utah.

(2) Miami versus (6) Texas.

D’Eric King returns to Miami for another season to take on Texas in the Round of 16. Douglas DeFelice/USA Sports Today



(1) Ohio State 42, (16) Kansas State 14 : No problem for the Buckeyes in the first, as they get a chance to rest most of their starters in the fourth quarter after taking a 28-0 lead into halftime thanks to a three-touchdown run from Master Teague.

(2) Iowa State 37, (15) Memphis 13 : Talk about high expectations. It’s hard to find the last time anyone expected this much from the Iowa State football team, but the Cyclones didn’t budge in their opener of the tournament and won easily with a stifling defense.

(3) Wisconsin 31, (14) Kentucky 17 : Even though the Badgers have lost some key players on their offensive line, when can they not rebuild that front? Their running game, with Jalen Berger running into big holes, is too much for the Wildcats, who are unable to generate a running game.

(4) Cincinnati 41, (13) Northwestern 16 : Cincinnati is still unhappy about being eliminated from the College Football Playoff a year ago, and now has a chance to win a 64-team tournament: I told you. The Bearcats dominated from their first possession of the ball and sent the Wildcats on their way.

(5) Louisiana 38, (12) Washington State 21 : All Billy Napier did in Louisiana was win. This limits the educational opportunities at Power 5 schools. Napier knew he had a very good team in 2021, and the Ragin’ Cajuns reached the second round.

(6) Ole Miss 42, (11) Pittsburgh 34: Lane Kiffin’s offense against Pat Narduzzi’s team is a head coach who knows what to do on that side of the ball. In the end, the Panthers couldn’t keep up with the Rebels’ attack, and Lane’s train kept moving.

(10) UCF 28, (7) Indiana 24: It’s hard not to love what UCF has done this season. The Cavaliers have an experienced coach in Gus Malzahn who has won championships, and they got him for a bargain price. Malzahn is also highly motivated after being fired from Auburn and leading UCF to a first-round victory over Indiana.

(8) Oklahoma State 31, (9) Maryland 28 : Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders suffered from a lack of consistency throughout most of the 2020 season, but his best game came in a bowl game. He only grew from there and broke the Terps’ hearts with a 35-yard touchdown run in the final minutes of the game.


(1) Ohio 38, (8) Oklahoma 20 : Ohio State has talented players in all areas of the field. But when was that not the case with Buckeye? But the difference in this game is Haskell Garrett and Ohio State’s loaded defensive line. The Buckeyes sacked Sanders six times and kept him on his toes the entire game.

(2) Iowa State 28, (10) UCF 27 : Almost every team that advances in the tournament has to find a way to win a game in which they are not playing at their best. Dillon Gabriel put UCF ahead with his third touchdown of the fourth quarter, but the Cyclones scored the decisive touchdown later in the quarter.

(6) Ole Miss 45, (3) Wisconsin 38 : For the second game in a row, the Rebels exceeded the 40-point mark with a 400-yard pass to Matt Corral and four touchdowns, including a fourth-down throw on a run that caused Kiffin to raise his hand for the touchdown signal while the ball was still in the air.

(5) Louisiana 27, (4) Cincinnati 26 : It’s a shame that these two groups of 5 heavyweights have to meet in the second round. Both are good enough to make big leaps. But in the game of the tournament so far, quarterback Levi Lewis recovered from an interception in the third quarter to throw the winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds.


(1) Ohio State versus (5) Louisiana.

(2) Iowa State vs. (6) Ole Miss.

Levi Lewis leads Louisiana past Cincinnati and into one of the biggest games in program history against Ohio State, tied with five other teams. Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports



(1) Oklahoma 47, (16) Virginia 27 : This game was much closer in the first half than anyone would have predicted, but the Sooners scored on their first three attacks to start the second half and led despite allowing nearly 400 yards of offense.

(2) Georgia 41, (15) Tennessee 24 : Since the Hail Mary touchdown pass (Dobbs Nail Boot) to end the 2016 game, Tennessee has defeated Georgia, which has forced both Vols games and has now won 11 of the last 13 games in the series.

(3) Florida 35, (14) SMU 21: There were rumors during the offseason that Dan Mullen might be heading to the NFL. But in his fourth season in Gainesville, Mullen is still hitting hard, and the Gators have a balanced first-round offense, beating Sonny Dykes’ Mustangs in the first round.

(4) North Carolina 31, (13) Colorado 17 : It didn’t take long for Mac Brown to make UNC national again in his second term in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels win 10 games in their third season and are one of the most improved defenses in college football, something Colorado is finding out the hard way now.

(5) USC 34, (12) North Carolina State 14 : The Trojans celebrate a favorable conference schedule before facing the Wolfpack in the first round of the tournament. Clay Helton will never quite leave the proverbial hot seat at USC, but for now.

(6) Notre Dame 28, (11) Purdue 24 : This first round All-India match goes to the final. When Purdue reached the Notre Dame 5-yard line, Kyle Hamilton confirmed his status as the best safety in college football with a one-handed interception in the end zone.

(7) LSU 23, (10) Virginia Tech 20 : No offense shines in this game, but LSU has the better weapons on special teams. Cade York scored three field goals, two of which were over 50 yards, and the Tigers advanced despite not being able to cap their drives with touchdowns.

(8) Nebraska 35, (9) West Virginia 21 : In his fourth season at his alma mater, Scott Frost should show real progress. It was a battle to that point, but the Huskers play their complete game of the season and advance to the second round.


(1) Oklahoma 42, (8) Nebraska 31 : Remember when this game was a major Thanksgiving weekend at the old G8 conference? The Huskers held their own for most of the game, but had no answer for Spencer Rattler and the Sooners’ passing game, which did not stop in the second half.

(2) Georgia 28, (7) LSU 17 : Georgia has its own problems with early turnovers killing scoring chances, but LSU has an even bigger problem, the 6-6, 330-pound Jordan Davis. The Dawgs’ big defensive tackles destroy everything the Tigers try offensively.

(3) Florida 30, (6) Notre Dame 28 : Two of the best brands in college football face off in a game that can be very offensive at times. The teams split just before the end of the first half, with quarterback Emory Jones scoring the game-winner for the Gators in the second half.

(4) North Carolina 37, (5) USC 24 : Many predicted before the season that Sam Howell would become one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and the UNC junior will live up to that reputation. He throws his 40. A touchdown pass in the second quarter, the first of four points, and the Tar Heels go to the Sweet 16….. in football.


(1) Oklahoma vs. (4) North Carolina.

(2) Georgia versus (3) Florida….

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