Crowning a champion in college football's 2024 64-team playoff

ByChris Low ESPN logo
Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Welcome to the super conference version of ESPN's 2024 mock NCAA football tournament.

Of the teams making it to the Sweet 16, 11 are in either the Big Ten or SEC.

All four No. 1 seeds are still alive, and the lowest remaining seed is No. 5 Louisville. In this new era of college football, several transfer players have already made huge contributions, and three new coaches -- Alabama's Kalen DeBoer, Arizona's Brent Brennan and Michigan's Sherrone Moore -- have their teams in the Sweet 16.

To recap, the original seeds were based to some degree on ESPN's latest SP+ projections entering the 2024 season, not that seeds really mean much at this point.

Let's finish football's version of the 64-team tournament, where we didn't need an endless procession of meetings with commissioners and other administrators to determine the format.

South Regional


(1) Georgia35, (4) Utah14: Georgia keeps losing great defensive players to the NFL, but other great players keep emerging from those shadows. C.J. Allen and Jalon Walker are next in line to be the kind of hard-hitting linebackers the Dawgs have featured in recent years. They combine for five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles against the Utes, and Georgia never trails.

(2) Notre Dame34, (3) Missouri33: It's back and forth between two teams that have shown their resiliency all season. Cornerback Benjamin Morrison gives Notre Dame the lead heading into the fourth quarter with a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown. Missouri answers with a Brady Cook 1-yard touchdown plunge a few minutes later, but Mitch Jeter, a grad transfer from South Carolina, boots a 49-yard field goal on the game's final play to win it in thrilling fashion for the Irish.

Regional final

(1) Georgia 30, (2) Notre Dame 27: Notre Dame plays its best game of the tournament, and Riley Leonard has the kind of success against Georgia's secondary that few quarterbacks have experienced. The Irish take a touchdown lead into the fourth quarter, but that's when Glenn Schumann's defense settles in and forces three straight three-and-outs. The final one sets up a short field for Georgia, leading to 240-pound Roderick Robinson running over defenders for a 12-yard touchdown run.

How we got here

First round: (1) Georgia over (16) UNLV, (2) Notre Dame over (15) Northwestern, (3) Missouri over (14) Appalachian State, (4) Utah over (13) BYU, (12) Rutgers over (5) Miami, (6) USC over (11) South Carolina, (10) Liberty over (7) Auburn, (8) Virginia Tech over (9) Memphis

Second round: (1) Georgia over (8) Virginia Tech, (2) Notre Dame over (10) Liberty, (3) Missouri over (6) USC, (4) Utah over (12) Rutgers

East Regional


(1) Texas35, (4) Arizona28: Brennan and Arizona continue to be one of the best stories in the tournament. Noah Fifita outplays Quinn Ewers for much of the game in a matchup of uber-talented quarterbacks. But the difference is that Texas is better able to protect Ewers, especially on the left side, where tackle Kelvin Banks Jr. is a one-man shield and gives Ewers the time he needs to rally the Longhorns in the second half.

(3) Ole Miss38, (2) Alabama35: In four tries against Nick Saban and Alabama, Lane Kiffin came up short as Ole Miss' coach. But Kiffin and the Rebels break through against the Kalen DeBoer-coached Crimson Tide. It's a close game the whole way. Jalen Milroe runs for two touchdowns and passes for another, and Alabama is on the brink of advancing to the Elite Eight. Kiffin then decides to go for it on fourth-and-7 from his own 32, and Tre Harris catches a pass over the middle and turns it into a game-winning 68-yard touchdown. Afterward, Kiffin pledges to give up social media.

Regional final

(1) Texas 41, (3) Ole Miss 38: It's an instant classic with two coaches -- Steve Sarkisian and Kiffin -- who worked together at USC under Pete Carroll and know each other extremely well. The first big play of the game comes on defense when Ole Miss defensive end Jared Ivey sacks Ewers, forcing a fumble that Princely Umanmielen returns 24 yards for a touchdown. Ewers bounces back to throw two second-half touchdown passes, but stands in there and takes a wicked shot to the ribs on the final one. In a Hollywood-type ending, Arch Manning comes off the bench in the final minutes to steer the Longhorns to the win over the alma mater of his father, grandfather and uncle.

How we got here

First round: (1) Texas over (16) Fresno State, (2) Alabama over Illinois (15), (3) Ole Miss over North Carolina (14), (4) Arizona over UCLA (13), (5) Clemson over (12) Colorado, (11) West Virginia over (6) Wisconsin, (10) Nebraska over (7) N.C. State, (8) Iowa State over (9) Washington

Second round: (1) Texas over (8) Iowa State, (2) Alabama over (10) Nebraska, (3) Ole Miss over (11) West Virginia, (4) Arizona over (5) Clemson

Midwest Regional


(1) Ohio State42, (5) Louisville21: First it was Bill O'Brien; then it was Chip Kelly. Ryan Day was looking for a proven playcaller to take over those duties, and he eventually turned to Kelly, his old coach at New Hampshire, when O'Brien left in February for the Boston College head coaching job. Kelly has no shortage of dynamic playmakers to work with, and TreVeyon Henderson, Quinshon Judkins and Emeka Egbuka take turns scoring touchdowns in the Buckeyes' blowout win.

(3) Oklahoma24, (2) Michigan20: All the talk entering this game centers around a potential Ohio State-Michigan matchup for an Elite Eight berth. Brent Venables and Oklahoma have other ideas. The Sooners' experience on defense shows and is a reminder of how important it was to get back their two best defenders, linebacker Danny Stutsman and safety Billy Bowman, for the 2024 season. Each time the Wolverines seem to be putting together a drive, Stutsman or Bowman is there to make a big play.

Regional final

(1) Ohio State 37, (3) Oklahoma 24: The Sooners' deep and impressive run in the tournament comes to an end. Sophomore quarterback Jackson Arnold illustrates why he will be one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation in 2025 with his talent and toughness, but the Buckeyes' defense keeps him on the run for much of the game. Moreover, Oklahoma isn't able to get its running game going, allowing Ohio State defensive ends Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau to tee off on Arnold.

How we got here

First round: (1) Ohio State over (16) Miami (Ohio), (2) Michigan over (15) Arkansas, (3) Oklahoma over (14) South Florida, (4) LSU over (13) Georgia Tech, (5) Louisville over (12) Boise State, (6) Texas A&M over (11) Minnesota, (10) Maryland over (7) Iowa, (8) Florida over TCU (9)

Second round: (1) Ohio State over Florida (8), (2) Michigan over (10) Maryland, (3) Oklahoma over (6) Texas A&M, (5) Louisville over (4) LSU

West Regional


(1) Oregon42, (4) Tennessee35: Oregon recruited Nico Iamaleava hard and finished second to Tennessee for the talented quarterback from California. Iamaleava's first season as the Vols' starter is a testament to why he was so heavily recruited. But as good as he is in this game, he's the second-best quarterback on the field as Dillon Gabriel throws for 390 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Ducks a step closer to playing for the national championship.

(3) Florida State28, (2) Penn State24: Think the Seminoles and everybody around that program are still fuming over being left out of the playoff last season? That's why we have a 64-team field, and there's no doubt Florida State is playing with a chip on its shoulder. There was a time back in January that some in FSU's administration thought they might be losing Mike Norvell to Alabama. Those fears now seem like a fleeting memory as the Seminoles hold the Nittany Lions scoreless in the fourth quarter and hang on for the win.

Regional final

(3) Florida State 31, (1) Oregon 30: DJ Uiagalelei has traveled the college football map from Clemson to Oregon State and now Florida State. It's a journey he and the Seminoles will never forget. A year ago, Uiagalelei's touchdown pass accounted for Oregon State's only score in a 31-7 loss to rival Oregon. But this time, with the stakes even higher, he throws three touchdown passes, and FSU surges into the Final Four, which is where Seminoles fans everywhere will tell you they belonged a year ago.

How we got here

First round: (1) Oregon over James Madison (16), (2) Penn State over (15) Wake Forest, (3) Florida State over (14) Washington State, (4) Tennessee over (13) Duke, (12) UCF over (5) Kansas State, (6) Oklahoma State over (11) Oregon State, (7) Kansas over (10) Texas Tech, (9) Kentucky over (8) SMU

Second round: (1) Oregon over (9) Kentucky, (2) Penn State over (7) Kansas, (3) Florida State over (6) Oklahoma State, (4) Tennessee over (12) UCF

Final Four

(1) Texas 31, (1) Georgia 24: If you love offense vs. defense, it doesn't get any better than this semifinal affair with Steve Sarkisian matching wits with Kirby Smart. Ewers returns from his injury in the regional final win over Ole Miss and looks as good as new. He and Georgia quarterback Carson Beck put on a passing exhibition with key third-down completions, deep balls and throws into tight windows. The Bulldogs tie the game on a Beck 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Oscar Delp, but Ewers finds his own tight end, Alabama transfer Amari Niblack, on a 12-yard touchdown pass to win it and snap Georgia's 17-game winning streak.

(1) Ohio State 38, (3) Florida State 21: Ohio State has looked as strong as anybody in this tournament, and that doesn't change against a Florida State team that runs out of gas after an inspiring run that eases some of the pain of a year ago. The Buckeyes score more than 30 points for the fifth straight time in the tournament and get a defensive touchdown when cornerback Denzel Burke takes one back 91 yards with the Seminoles driving late in the third quarter.

National championship

(1) Texas 41, (1) Ohio State 37: For the second straight season, Ohio State reaches the national championship game in our tournament. The Buckeyes are due for a title, too, after last winning one in 2014. The Longhorns are even more due. Their last title came in 2005. In his fourth season on the Forty Acres, Sarkisian has his best and most balanced team. As many as 28 future NFL draft picks take the field in this game.

Ohio State has momentum on its side in the fourth quarter, but Texas' Ethan Burke and Anthony Hill Jr. take down a scrambling Will Howard on a game-changing sack. The Buckeyes are forced to punt, and Oregon State transfer Silas Bolden leaves a vapor trail down the left sideline on a 73-yard punt return for the winning touchdown. As the final seconds tick down, Bevo appears on the field sporting some serious Horns Up bling and a burnt orange sign that reads, "Texas is back!"