How a 64-team college football tournament would play out


We're finally up to 12 teams in the College Football Playoff, which means the expanded field in 2024 will feature some of the not-so-usual suspects.

At ESPN, we expanded the college football postseason a long time ago and will again count down from 64 teams in our fictional 2024 NCAA football tournament.

At the very least, the real world in college football is slowly catching up.

Here's the format: We've seeded the teams 1 through 64, and the seeds are based largely on ESPN's latest SP+ projections for the 2024 season.

The top four seeds are Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Texas (only Texas made the actual four-team playoff field a year ago). With the Longhorns being the fourth No. 1 seed, they will be forced to travel to the East Region.

Seeds are just seeds, and all that matters is what happens on the field, so get ready for some upsets. We'll do our best to create some compelling storylines, even though the basketball committee insists it doesn't engage in such contrived methods when putting together its bracket.

We've done our homework and looked over the rosters, especially with so many new faces at new schools -- not to mention Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh no longer coaching in the college ranks -- but we always endeavor to have a little fun.

Today, we examine the field and work our way through the first two rounds of the tournament, narrowing the pool from 64 to 16. We'll play the rest of the games and crown a national champion Wednesday.

The bracket

1-seeds: Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon, Texas

2-seeds: Alabama, Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame

3-seeds: Ole Miss, Florida State, Oklahoma, Missouri

4-seeds: Arizona, Tennessee, LSU, Utah

5-seeds: Clemson, Kansas State, Louisville, Miami

6-seeds: Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, USC

7-seeds: NC State, Kansas, Iowa, Auburn

8-seeds: Iowa State, SMU, Florida, Virginia Tech

9-seeds: Washington, Kentucky, TCU, Memphis

10-seeds: Nebraska, Texas Tech, Maryland, Liberty

11-seeds: West Virginia, Oregon State, Minnesota, South Carolina

12-seeds: Colorado, UCF, Boise State, Rutgers

13-seeds: UCLA, Duke, Georgia Tech, BYU

14-seeds: North Carolina, Washington State, South Florida, Appalachian State

15-seeds: Illinois, Wake Forest, Arkansas, Northwestern

16-seeds: Fresno State, James Madison, Miami (Ohio), UNLV

First four out: Baylor, Cal, Louisiana, Arkansas State

South Regional

First round

(1) Georgia 42, (16) UNLV 7: A year ago, Trevor Etienne was carrying the football for rival Florida. He's now one of the focal points of Georgia's running game and pounds his way to 165 rushing yards against a UNLV defense that simply can't hold up against the Bulldogs' massive offensive line.

(2) Notre Dame 35, (15) Northwestern 20: David Braun did as good a coaching job as anyone in 2023 after taking over for Pat Fitzgerald in an interim role, then being promoted toward the end of the season and leading Northwestern to an 8-5 finish. The Wildcats follow up with another winning season in 2024, but fall behind early to the Irish and can't make up the deficit.

(3) Missouri 30, (14) Appalachian State 28: Appalachian State leads the whole way in this one in what has upset written all over it, and the fans in Boone, North Carolina, are giddy about taking down Eliah Drinkwitz, who left App State following just one season. But a late 78-yard touchdown drive engineered by Brady Cook breaks the Mountaineers' hearts.

(4) Utah 34, (13) BYU 24: There's nothing like rivals clashing in a postseason game, and with Utah joining the Big 12 in 2024, that means we get to see these two go at it twice. The Utes win the regular-season game at home comfortably, but in the rematch, they need a forced fumble late in the third quarter to break open a close game.

(12) Rutgers 28, (5) Miami 24: Greg Schiano and Mario Cristobal, longtime friends and former colleagues, find themselves paired against each other for the second straight season after Schiano's Scarlet Knights beat Cristobal's Hurricanes in the Pinstripe Bowl to close the 2023 season. The old No. 5 vs. No. 12 curse strikes again, as Rutgers pulls off the first upset of the tournament.

(6) USC 31, (11) South Carolina 20: After all the pregame back-and-forth over who is the real "USC," it's settled on the field (for now) when the Trojans of the West Coast play their best defensive game of the season to hold the Gamecocks of the East Coast to one second-half touchdown.

(10) Liberty 35, (7) Auburn 34: Kaidon Salter was in the transfer portal at one point this offseason but withdrew his name. It's a good thing for Liberty, as Salter accounts for four touchdowns and scores the game-winner in the final minutes to spearhead the upset victory over his old coach, Hugh Freeze, and the Tigers.

(8) Virginia Tech 28, (9) Memphis 23: Brent Pry's third season at Virginia Tech is his most successful. The Hokies hold their own with the ACC's best and win their last four games. In the postseason opener, Antwaun Powell-Ryland racks up three quarterback sacks to keep the Tigers on their heels every time it looks like they're going to generate some offensive momentum.

Second round

(1) Georgia 35, (8) Virginia Tech 10: Georgia's ability to make offenses one-dimensional has been a staple under Kirby Smart. Virginia Tech is unable to generate any running game, and the Bulldogs' pass-rush feasts on a Hokies offensive attack that continually finds itself in third-and-long. Virginia Tech's only touchdown comes on the 40-yard return of a blocked punt.

(2) Notre Dame 43, (10) Liberty 23: Riley Leonard transferred to Notre Dame to play in big games like this, and as Notre Dame's second transfer quarterback in as many years, he delivers with three touchdown passes after starting the contest by completing his first nine passes.

(3) Missouri 34, (6) USC 28: Two of the most electric receivers in college football are on display in this one -- Luther Burden III for Missouri and Zachariah Branch for USC. Of the two, Burden has the more seasoned and experienced quarterback, and Cook connects with Burden twice on third down to keep a game-clinching drive alive in the fourth quarter.

(4) Utah 28, (12) Rutgers 21: Determined to prove its first-round upset of Miami was no fluke, Rutgers leads most of the way against a Utah team that hurts itself with turnovers. But tight end Brant Kuithe saves the Utes with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown receptions, the last one coming between two Rutgers defenders in the corner of the end zone.

Regional semifinals

(1) Georgia vs. (4) Utah

(2) Notre Dame vs. (3) Missouri

Midwest Regional

First round

(1) Ohio State 45, (16) Miami (Ohio) 20: This battle of Ohio has rarely been close in their six previous meetings, but the RedHawks put together another strong season after winning the MAC in 2023. They just don't have the firepower to compete with an Ohio State roster laden with NFL talent.

(2) Michigan 31, (15) Arkansas 28: Sherrone Moore's first NCAA tournament game as Michigan's coach goes down to the last few possessions. The Hogs take a 28-24 lead on Landon Jackson's strip sack and 24-yard touchdown return. The Wolverines answer, though, thanks to two fourth-down conversions and a late 10-yard touchdown run by Donovan Edwards.

(3) Oklahoma 37, (14) South Florida 21: The improvement at South Florida in two seasons under Alex Golesh is hard to ignore, but so is the enormous talent of Oklahoma quarterback Jackson Arnold. The Sooners sophomore doesn't flinch in his first NCAA tournament game, throwing for 325 yards and three touchdowns.

(4) LSU 20, (13) Georgia Tech 14: It's the SEC vs. the ACC in this first-round game that is played in a driving rainstorm. The teams combine to turn the ball over six times, and both defenses make stops with their backs at the goal line. The Tigers hold on to advance after a fourth-down pass into the end zone by Georgia Tech's Haynes King is batted away.

(5) Louisville 30, (12) Boise State 20: Jeff Brohm guided Louisville to the ACC championship game in his first season back at his alma mater a year ago. That was just a teaser, as the Cardinals again get to 10 regular-season wins and see to it that there's no drama in their postseason opener by building a 20-0 lead in the first half and cruising the rest of the way.

(6) Texas A&M 35, (11) Minnesota 24: Darius Taylor stays healthy for the whole season and establishes himself as one of the top young running backs in college football. He keeps Minnesota in the game with 145 rushing yards, but Texas A&M pulls away with Conner Weigman throwing a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

(10) Maryland 24, (7) Iowa 20: This is one of the biggest wins of Mike Locksley's tenure at Maryland. Not only do the Terps advance to the Round of 32 by holding the Hawkeyes to 212 total yards, but they extend their winning streak to five straight games -- one of those a win over Iowa the next-to-last week of the regular season in College Park.

(8) Florida 42, (9) TCU 24: The Gators needed something good to happen in Year 3 under Billy Napier, and they get it with one of their most impressive outings of the season in their NCAA tournament opener. Florida passes for more than 300 yards and rushes for more than 200 in a convincing victory.

Second round

(1) Ohio State 31, (8) Florida 10: Quarterback Will Howard bolted Kansas State for Ohio State with the hopes of playing for college football's top prize. The Buckeyes move a step closer to doing just that even though Howard doesn't have to play a huge role in a game that's dominated by defensive tackle Tyleik Williams and an Ohio State defense that shuts out the Gators in the first half.

(2) Michigan 23, (10) Maryland 20: The Wolverines are living dangerously in the postseason, but there's something to be said for finding ways to win when your season is on the line. For the second straight game, Michigan makes enough clutch plays in the fourth quarter to advance, none bigger than Will Johnson's one-handed interception on the sideline.

(3) Oklahoma 38, (6) Texas A&M 20: With the ever-changing landscape in college football, there will be an increased number of intraconference matchups in the tournament. Oklahoma's first foray through the SEC includes a few hiccups, but the Sooners are playing their best football of the season and put the Aggies away by reeling off 21 unanswered points.

(5) Louisville 28, (4) LSU 24: The matchup everyone was anticipating going into this game was LSU's offensive tackles vs. Louisville's pass-rushers. There's NFL talent on both sides, but the best player on the field is Louisville defensive end Ashton Gillotte. He's the difference in this game with his ability to consistently pressure LSU quarterback Garrett Nussmeier.

Regional semifinals

(1) Ohio State vs. (5) Louisville

(2) Michigan vs. (3) Oklahoma

West Regional

First round

(1) Oregon 45, (16) James Madison 13: Dan Lanning's third season at Oregon is his best yet, with the Ducks earning a No. 1 seed in their first year in the Big Ten. They play like a No. 1 seed in their NCAA tournament opener with more than 500 yards in total offense and three forced turnovers in a runaway victory.

(2) Penn State 33, (15) Wake Forest 17: Despite considerable turnover on a defense that led the country in sacks (49) and tackles for loss (111) in 2023, Penn State again flexes its muscles on that side of the ball under first-year coordinator Tom Allen. The Nittany Lions record five sacks in their first-round win over the Deacons.

(3) Florida State 34, (14) Washington State 21: It's a new world for Washington State in a Pac-12 conference reduced to two teams. The Cougars play 11 nonconference games in Jake Dickert's third full season as coach. Florida State, still smarting from its playoff snub a year ago, jumps out to a 17-point lead before putting together a seven-minute touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to end Washington State's comeback bid.

(4) Tennessee 38, (13) Duke 28: A pair of former California star high school quarterbacks duel in this entertaining first-round contest that sees a total of six touchdown passes. In the end, Tennessee's Nico Iamaleava has more talent around him, and the Vols advance despite Maalik Murphy playing one of his best games of the season for the Blue Devils.

(12) UCF 28, (5) Kansas State 23: Some of the best news for UCF in the offseason was running back RJ Harvey announcing that he was returning for his senior season. And what a season it is, as Harvey goes from one of the more underrated players in the country to one of the best. He rolls up 178 rushing yards and three touchdowns in an upset win over the Wildcats.

(6) Oklahoma State 28, (11) Oregon State 24: Similar to the 2023 season, Oklahoma State gets off to a slow start. But by the time the calendar flips to November, the Cowboys are peaking. That's bad news for Oregon State, which hangs around and has a chance to win at the end under first-year coach Trent Bray. But the Beavers are stopped on first-and-goal inside the 10 in the closing minute.

(7) Kansas 31, (10) Texas Tech 30: Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels deserved an injury-free season after being plagued by injuries in 2023 and 2022, and he gets his wish. He makes big play after big play to counter a 204-yard rushing performance from Texas Tech's Tahj Brooks to lead the Jayhawks to a thrilling win that isn't decided until the final seconds.

(9) Kentucky 27, (8) SMU 23: Winning in the postseason is always a lot easier when you're dominant in the defensive front. Kentucky's Deone Walker is among the best interior linemen in the country and proves to be the difference in this tightly contested first-round game. The 6-foot-6, 348-pound junior is a one-man wrecking machine against the Mustangs.

Second round

(1) Oregon 31, (9) Kentucky 16: The Ducks post their second straight convincing victory in the tournament, this one coming after a slow start that leads to a fiery halftime lambasting by Lanning. It's all Oregon in the second half with Tez Johnson twice getting open for deep touchdown receptions.

(2) Penn State 28, (7) Kansas 17: Daniels and Kansas manage to keep it close in the first half and have a chance to take the lead early in the third quarter, but a short field goal is blocked. The second half belongs to the Penn State running game, namely Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, as the Nittany Lions play keep-away and mash their way to two long scoring drives.

(3) Florida State 33, (6) Oklahoma State 23: Jared Verse was a difference-maker at defensive end a year ago for the ACC champion Seminoles. Now that he has gone to the NFL, Florida State will need others to step up. The good news is there's depth at defensive end, and that depth shows up as five players record sacks against Oklahoma State.

(4) Tennessee 37, (12) UCF 27: Josh Heupel faces his old team, a UCF club that's playing with a lot of confidence after upsetting Kansas State in the first round. Iamaleava plays mistake-free football for the Vols and doesn't have to shoulder too much of the burden, as Dylan Sampson and Cameron Seldon each rush for 100 yards.

Regional semifinals

(1) Oregon vs. (4) Tennessee

(2) Penn State vs. (3) Florida State

East Regional

First round

(1) Texas 42, (16) Fresno State 14: The Longhorns fell one game short of playing for the national championship in 2023. In their first season in the SEC, they don't take their foot off the gas and breeze through their first-round game. Several transfers make big plays, including former Alabama receiver Isaiah Bond catching two touchdowns (but none on fourth-and-31).

(2) Alabama 30, (15) Illinois 13: The postseason debut for Kalen DeBoer at Alabama is a successful one as the Crimson Tide's defense steals the show. They hold Illinois to one touchdown and score one of their own when linebacker Deontae Lawson returns a tipped pass 42 yards for a touchdown.

(3) Ole Miss 38, (14) North Carolina 21: Lane Kiffin has his best roster yet at Ole Miss, especially on defense, and the Rebels use a balanced attack on offense and some game-changing plays on defense to put this first-round game away midway through the third quarter. Afterward, the focus shifts to whether Hall of Famer Mack Brown plans to retire as UNC's coach.

(4) Arizona 35, (13) UCLA 24: Jedd Fisch left a talented roster at Arizona to take the Washington head-coaching job, and Brent Brennan was more than happy to come in and coach the players Fisch left behind. The Wildcats' first-round win over their former Pac-12 mates is especially sweet for the Big 12, which gets a postseason win over the new-look Big Ten.

(5) Clemson 27, (12) Colorado 24: It's Dabo vs. Prime, and the game more than lives up to its billing. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders is brilliant for the Buffaloes with 380 passing yards. They're able to move the ball, but the Tigers' red zone defense is the difference. Twice in the fourth quarter, All-America linebacker Barrett Carter comes up with third-down stops to thwart Colorado drives.

(11) West Virginia 24, (6) Wisconsin 20: Neal Brown took a small pay cut before the season so West Virginia could invest more in his coaching staff. That kind of selfless approach permeated the Mountaineers' team, and they once again exceed outside expectations to move into the second round after holding the Badgers to 130 total yards in the second half.

(10) Nebraska 23, (7) NC State 21: It was a disappointing finish for Matt Rhule and Nebraska in his first season in Lincoln. The Huskers lost their last four games, but Rhule has been able to overhaul the roster. No addition was more important than getting quarterback Dylan Raiola to flip from Georgia. Even though he's a freshman, Raiola plays like a veteran in a comeback win over the Wolfpack.

(8) Iowa State 31, (9) Washington 24: Don't forget about Iowa State's Rocco Becht when you start reeling off the top young quarterbacks in college football. Becht follows up a terrific redshirt freshman season with an even better sophomore campaign and throws touchdown passes to three receivers to move the Cyclones into the second round.

Second round

(1) Texas 24, (8) Iowa State 21: This was once a battle of Big 12 schools, and make no mistake, this game is the epitome of a battle. The Cyclones don't back down against the heavily favored Longhorns and keep making clutch third-down stops on defense. But Texas' defense makes the most important stand of the game when Becht's fourth-down pass from the Longhorns' 43 sails incomplete in the final seconds.

(2) Alabama 40, (10) Nebraska 21: Jalen Milroe does a little bit of everything for Alabama in its second-round win, even catching a touchdown on a throwback pass. The Crimson Tide's offensive line sets the tone early, giving Milroe time to throw and clearing the way for Justice Haynes to rush for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

(3) Ole Miss 31, (11) West Virginia 20: The Portal King, aka Lane Kiffin, continues to have success plugging in new players and having them be a fit. One of the more highly coveted transfers in the 2024 class, defensive lineman Walter Nolen, keeps West Virginia quarterback Garrett Greene bottled up the whole game, and the Rebels surge into the Sweet 16.

(4) Arizona 28, (5) Clemson 26: The Noah Fifita-to-Tetairoa McMillan connection gives opposing defenses fits all season. Clemson's defense is no exception. Fifita's third touchdown pass of the game, all to McMillan, puts the Wildcats in the lead for good early in the fourth quarter. It's Arizona's sixth straight win and Brennan's biggest yet in his first year as the Wildcats' coach.

Regional semifinals

(1) Texas vs. (4) Arizona

(2) Alabama vs. (3) Ole Miss