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What would happen in a 68-team college football bracket for 2016?

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Way Too Early Top 25 (2:13)

Mark Schlabach is back with another edition of the Way Too Early Top 25. (2:13)

What if Washington State coach Mike Leach was right? What if college football used a 68-team bracket -- instead of its current four-team College Football Playoff -- to determine its national champion?

Leach has long argued for a 64-team field in college football. He wants to cut the regular season to 10 games and then emulate college basketball's postseason with a 64-team bracket. The final two teams would play six games in six weeks.

As March Madness tips off, ESPN.com took a crack at setting a 68-team college football field. The brackets are based on the 2016 Way-Too-Early Top 25 and the initial Football Power Index ratings. Then we used a crystal ball and Sharon Katz's FPI-based projections to play it out. This week, we took a look at the bracket and the first two rounds. Check back next week for imaginary Sweet 16 and Elite 8 projections.

Sure, it might be far-fetched, but it's also a lot of fun. Let the debate -- and griping -- begin.


The bracket

1-seeds: Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, Baylor

2-seeds: Clemson, LSU, Oklahoma, Stanford

3-seeds: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Houston, Tennessee

4-seeds: Ole Miss, Michigan State, TCU, USC

5-seeds: Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Oregon

6-seeds: UCLA, Oklahoma State, Washington, Florida

7-seeds: Boise State, Utah, Louisville, Washington State

8-seeds: Miami, Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Pitt

9-seeds: Auburn, Nebraska, Arkansas, Texas

10-seeds: Mississippi State, West Virginia, Arizona, Penn State

11-seeds: BYU, Virginia Tech, South Florida, Texas Tech

12-seeds: Arizona State, NC State, Northwestern, Duke

13-seeds: Kansas State, Georgia Tech, Cal, Western Kentucky

14-seeds: San Diego State, Temple, Indiana, Western Michigan

15-seeds: Minnesota, Appalachian State, Air Force, South Carolina

16-seeds: Navy, Georgia Southern, Cincinnati, Marshall

Last four in: Northern Illinois, Utah State, Bowling Green, Southern Miss

Breaking down the field

Schlabach: The top four seeds are defending national champion Alabama, Baylor, Florida State and Michigan. The No. 2 seeds are Clemson, LSU, Oklahoma and Stanford.

There are 11 automatic bids for conference regular-season champions: Houston (AAC), FSU (ACC), Baylor (Big 12), Michigan (Big Ten), Western Kentucky (Conference USA), Western Michigan (MAC), Boise State (Mountain West), Stanford (Pac-12), Alabama (SEC) and Appalachian State (Sun Belt).

The other 57 teams received at-large bids as determined by a one-man selection committee based on projections for the upcoming season. Southern Miss, Bowling Green, Utah State and Northern Illinois were the last four teams in. The first four out were Missouri, Kentucky, Toledo and Connecticut.

Katz: Pretend it's Selection Sunday, and this bracket was released. FPI would be used to analyze snubs, undeserved bids and over- or under-seeded teams. FPI agrees with most of the bracket. Among Power 5 schools, FPI would have Vanderbilt (50th in FPI) in the tournament over a team such as Minnesota (57th in FPI), but there is not much disagreement on the field. The biggest divergence is with the seeding. If FPI reseeded the field, it would have Houston, TCU and Iowa lower and Louisville, West Virginia and Oklahoma State higher.


First Four

(12) NC State Wolfpack vs. (12) Arizona State Sun Devils

(16) Northern Illinois Huskies vs. (16) Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

(16) Utah State Aggies vs. (16) Bowling Green Falcons

(12) Duke Blue Devils vs. (12) Northwestern Wildcats

Schlabach's picks: NC State, Southern Miss, Bowling Green, Duke

FPI picks: NC State, Northern Illinois, Utah State, Northwestern


First round

South region

(1) Alabama Crimson Tide vs. (16) Southern Miss/(16) Northern Illinois

(8) Miami Hurricanes vs. (9) Texas Longhorns

(5) Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (12) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

(4) TCU Horned Frogs vs. (13) California Golden Bears

(6) UCLA Bruins vs. (11) Texas Tech Red Raiders

(3) Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. (14) Minnesota Golden Gophers

(7) Utah Utes vs. (10) Penn State Nittany Lions

(2) Oklahoma Sooners vs. (15) South Carolina Gamecocks

Schlabach: Bama, Texas, Iowa, TCU, UCLA, Notre Dame, Utah, Oklahoma

FPI: Bama, Miami, Iowa, TCU, UCLA, Notre Dame, Penn State, Oklahoma

West region

(1) Baylor Bears vs. (16) Marshall Thundering Herd

(8) Texas A&M Aggies vs. (9) Nebraska Cornhuskers

(5) Oregon Ducks vs. (12) Duke

(4) Michigan State Spartans vs. (13) Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

(6) Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. (11) BYU Cougars

(3) Houston Cougars vs. (14) Western Michigan Broncos

(7) Louisville Cardinals vs. (10) West Virginia Mountaineers

(2) Stanford Cardinal vs. (15) Air Force Falcons

Schlabach: Baylor, Nebraska, Oregon, Michigan State, BYU, Houston, West Virginia, Stanford

FPI: Baylor, TAMU, Oregon, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Houston, Louisville, Stanford

East region

(1) Florida State Seminoles vs. (16) Bowling Green/(16) Utah State

(8) Wisconsin Badgers vs. (9) Auburn Tigers

(5) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (12) Arizona State

(4) Ole Miss Rebels vs. (13) Temple Owls

(6) Florida Gators vs. (11) South Florida Bulls

(3) Ohio State Buckeyes vs. (14) Appalachian State Mountaineers

(7) Boise State Broncos vs. (10) Arizona Wildcats

(2) LSU Tigers vs. (15) Navy Midshipmen

Schlabach: FSU, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Ole Miss, Florida, Ohio State, Arizona, LSU

FPI: FSU, Auburn, UNC, Ole Miss, Florida, Ohio State, Arizona, LSU

Midwest region

(1) Michigan Wolverines vs. (16) Cincinnati Bearcats

(8) Pittsburgh Panthers vs. (9) Arkansas Razorbacks

(5) Georgia Bulldogs vs. (12) Kansas State Wildcats

(4) USC Trojans vs. (13) San Diego State Aztecs

(6) Washington Huskies vs. (11) Virginia Tech Hokies

(3) Tennessee Volunteers vs. (14) Indiana Hoosiers

(7) Washington State Cougars vs. (10) Mississippi State Bulldogs

(2) Clemson Tigers vs. (15) Georgia Southern Eagles

Schlabach: Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, USC, Washington, Tennessee, Washington State, Clemson

FPI: Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, USC, Washington, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Clemson

First-round breakdown

Schlabach: Based on our projections, the first round might not produce the kind of stunning upsets the NCAA tournament brings us every year. In fact, my first-round projections had only four double-digit seeds advancing: No. 11 seed Arizona State (over No. 5 seed North Carolina), No. 11 seed BYU (over No. 6 seed Oklahoma State), No. 10 seed West Virginia (over No. 7 seed Louisville) and No. 10 seed Arizona (over No. 7 seed Boise State). The Oklahoma State loss might be the single biggest area of disagreement between Sharon and me.

Katz: The closest projected game of the opening round is the 7-10 matchup between Utah and Penn State. FPI would give Penn State (36th in FPI) a 51.5 percent chance to beat Utah (37th in FPI) on a neutral field. That result is certainly surprising, given each team's 2015 season, but FPI expects the Nittany Lions' offense to take a major step forward (even without Christian Hackenberg) with nine returning starters. Looking for a "major upset"? FPI projects that 14-seed Western Michigan has a 45 percent chance to upset 3-seed Houston.


Second round

South region

Schlabach: (1) Alabama over (9) Texas, (4) TCU over (5) Iowa, (3) Notre Dame over (6) UCLA, (2) Oklahoma over (7) Utah

Katz: (1) Alabama over (8) Miami, (4) TCU over (5) Iowa, (3) Notre Dame over (6) UCLA, (2) Oklahoma over (10) Penn State

West region

Schlabach: (1) Baylor over (9) Nebraska, (4) Michigan State over (5) Oregon, (3) Houston over (11) BYU, (2) Stanford over (10) West Virginia

FPI: (1) Baylor over (8) Texas A&M, (5) Oregon over (4) Michigan State, (6) Oklahoma State over (3) Houston, (2) Stanford over (7) Louisville

East region

Schlabach: (1) FSU over (8) Wisconsin, (4) Ole Miss over (12) Arizona State, (3) Ohio State over (6) Florida, (2) LSU over (10) Arizona

FPI: (1) FSU over (9) Auburn, (4) Ole Miss over (5) UNC, (3) Ohio State over (6) Florida, (2) LSU over (10) Arizona

Midwest region

Schlabach: (1) Michigan over (9) Arkansas, (4) USC over (5) Georgia, (3) Tennessee over (6) Washington, (2) Clemson over (7) Washington State

FPI: (1) Michigan over (9) Arkansas, (4) USC over (5) Georgia, (3) Tennessee over (6) Washington, (2) Clemson over (10) Mississippi State

Second-round breakdown

Schlabach: Urban Meyer vs. Florida ... Nick Saban vs. Texas ... Jim Harbaugh vs. the SEC.

Like the NCAA men's basketball selection committee, the football committee might occasionally provide us with regional rivalries and other grudge matches in the early rounds of a football tournament. If No. 3 seed Ohio State is going to advance to the third round, it will have to get past Florida, where Meyer won two BCS national championships. Alabama would have to get past Texas, which tried to hire Saban, and Michigan would have to defeat Arkansas, which would undoubtedly be preceded by a Twitter war of words between Harbaugh and Hogs coach Bret Bielema.

Katz: Baylor's region undoubtedly has the most exciting second-round games. The FPI favorite in three of the four games has a less than 55 percent chance to win, and the only slam dunk is No. 6 Oklahoma State over No. 3 Houston (75 percent chance to win). The most intriguing of those four games is Oregon vs. Michigan State for a third year in a row. Each of the past two seasons, the home team won a close game, but at a neutral site in this hypothetical 2016 NCAA Tournament, FPI would give the Ducks the slight edge (54 percent chance to win).


Sweet 16 matchups

South region

Schlabach:

(1) Alabama vs. (4) TCU, (3) Notre Dame vs. (2) Oklahoma

Katz:

(1) Alabama vs. (4) TCU, (3) Notre Dame vs. (2) Oklahoma

West region

Schlabach:

(1) Baylor vs. (4) Michigan State, (3) Houston vs. (2) Stanford

Katz:

(1) Baylor vs. (5) Oregon, (6) Oklahoma State vs. (2) Stanford

East region

Schlabach:

(1) Florida State vs. (4) Ole Miss, (3) Ohio State vs. (2) LSU

Katz:

(1) Florida State vs. (4) Ole Miss, (3) Ohio State vs. (2) LSU

Midwest region

Schlabach:

(1) Michigan vs. (4) USC, (3) Tennessee vs. (2) Clemson

Katz:

(1) Michigan vs. (4) USC, (3) Tennessee vs. (2) Clemson

Sweet 16 preview

Schlabach: If you like watching college football's traditional blue bloods, you'd love the Sweet 16 of our hypothetical 68-team football field. Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC litter the Sweet 16. If you like underdogs, you'd probably be disappointed. There isn't a team seeded lower than fourth in this Sweet 16, as chalk ruled the opening two rounds.

Katz: For those wondering if expanding the college football playoff would dilute the field, take a look at the potential Sweet 16 matchups in this hypothetical bracket. Nearly every FPI Sweet 16 game features traditional powerhouses and star coaches and players. Among the storylines: Which team takes the much-anticipated leap forward first: Michigan or USC? Which coaching mastermind wins: Nick Saban or Gary Patterson? Which team breaks the scoreboard first: Oregon or Baylor? Two of the top five teams in preseason FPI, Clemson and Tennessee, are projected to meet in this round in a close game that could determine the region.