NOTE: My initial thought was 64 teams, 16 per decade going back to the 80s, but I realize I'm older than most of you, so we'll let those Dark Ages alone. There will be references here and there to highlight some of the worst of those decades, but, as noted, this is a 48 team tournament limited to 2000-2019. So, let's get to the bracket.
Francis Peay Regional
We're going to lead off with the Francis Peay regional (80s/90s content!), where your top seed is...
The 2003 Illinois
Fighting Illini. The Illini earned their top seed by going 0-11 vs. FCS competition (with a -20.2 scoring margin in those games). Clearly the win over Illinois State was not enough for the committee to move them off the 1-line. Despite the awfulness of the '03 Illini, they were 4 on the committee's S-curve meaning that they are the "strongest" 1-seed.
Interestingly, the Illini could face a rematch in the Elite Eight with the third-seeded 2003 Indiana Hoosiers. Power rankings actually treat the 2-10 Hoosiers as the worse team. Like their border-state counterpart, the Hoosiers also had a FCS win (over Indiana State) that the committee ignored, but even at a dreadful 1-10, the committee had to take note of Indiana's 17-14 head-to-head win and punish them for the victory.
To earn a rematch, the Hoosiers will likely have to prove themselves less worthy than the region's 2-seed, 2019 Rutgers. Many thought this iteration of the Scarlet Knights deserved a top-seed, but clearly the committee decided the the pride shown in victories over UMass and Liberty (both of which had to be counted as FBS victories) were enough to keep them off the 1-line despite the worst scoring margin in the region.
Your full Peay regional bracket:
(11) 2017 Nebraska vs. (6) 2004 Illinois. "Winner" to face (3) 2003 Indiana.
(10) 2000 Indiana vs. (7) 2013 Illinois. "Winner" to face (2) 2019 Rutgers.
(12) 2006 Northwestern vs. (5) 2008 Indiana. "Winner" to face (4) 2016 Purdue.
(9) 2013 Northwestern vs. (8) 2015 Rutgers. "Winner" to face (1) 2003 Illinois.
Jim Colletto Regional
Next up is the Jim Colletto regional, where the top seed is a Boilermaker squad that makes Colletto's 1-10 team from 1993 look positively intimidating. Yes, 2013 Purdue did muster a 20-14 win over Indiana State, but, let's talk about that win for a minute. Besides the fact that a 6-point win over a FCS squad doesn't inspire confidence, it bears mentioning that 2013 Indiana State wasn't your typical FCS team. The Sycamores were basically the Purdue of the FCS, themselves going 1-11, with their one victory being over D-II Quincy. With an average score of 14.5-40.2 vs. FBS competition, the Boilers look primed for a deep run.
Still, some stiff competition does await, chiefly in the form of 2-seed 2011 Indiana. Kevin Wilson's first squad went 0-11 vs. FBS competition and the FCS win over South Carolina State was competitive into the 4th quarter. The Colletto regional could come down to an Old Oaken Bucket showdown for the ages.
Still, you can't count out 3-seed 2017 Illinois. Though the Illini notched two FBS wins, they lost their last ten games, and a winless Big Ten season means that they are certainly capable of going on a run (of futility). And 2019 Maryland, the 4-seed, could be a dark horse, depending on which Terps team (fails to) show up. The committee had to know that Maryland was actually ranked at one point, but in assigning Maryland a first-round bye, it seems clear they were swayed by a defense that allowed 46 ppg in their 8 Big Ten losses.
(11) 2001 Northwestern vs. (6) 2015 Maryland. (3) 2017 Illinois awaits.
(10) 2008 Michigan vs. (7) 2006 Michigan State [UH OH!!!]. (2) 2011 Indiana awaits.
(12) 2011 Ohio State vs. (5) 2002 Northwestern. (4) 2019 Maryland awaits.
(9) 2009 Illinois vs. (8) 2005 Indiana. (1) 2013 Purdue awaits.
Joe Salem Regional
Let's shift to the other half of the bracket, and take a look at the Joe Salem regional, where top-seeded 2007 Minnesota is going to have to work hard to measure down to the standard set by Salem's 1983 Minnesota squad. The '07 Gophers may be up to the task, though, considering that their FBS victory over Miami (OH) (which required both a missed FG by Miami and 2 OTs) was more than outweighed by a loss to FCS North Dakota State.
Still, the Gophers could face serious resistance in their march toward ignominy, particularly in the form of 2-seed 2005 Illinois. This version of the Illini started 2-0 with wins over (non-Big Ten) Rutgers and San Jose State, but lost their final nine games. In their winless Big Ten campaign, Illini allowed every opponent to score at least 35 points, and lost each game by at least 17 points. That is the profile of a live 2-seed.
To even get the chance to take on the Gophers, though, the Illini will likely have to deal with 3-seed 2016 Rutgers. Many will suggest the this version of the Scarlet Knights deserved better (?) treatment than being on the 3-line. With an offense that was shut out four times (and held to 7 or less six) in conference play, the offensive futility is there to hang around in this tournament for a while. One must conclude that in the hard task of separating chaff from chaff-ier chaff, the committee decided to punish Rutgers for a couple of close calls in Big Ten play and for their lone FBS victory being a win over an actually good nine-win New Mexico team.
Full Salem regional:
(11) 2001 Minnesota vs. (6) 2004 Indiana. ---> (3) 2016 Rutgers.
(10) 2011 Minnesota vs. (7) 2014 Indiana. ---> (2) 2005 Illinois.
(12) 2018 Nebraska vs. (5) 2014 Purdue. ---> (4) 2006 Illinois.
(9) 2010 Indiana vs. (8) 2009 Michigan. ---> (1) 2007 Minnesota
Don Morton Regional
Finally, we'll round out the bracket with a look at the Don Morton regional. Morton attempted to rebuild Wisconsin in the late 80s by installing the veer offense. Can any of this regional's teams top the namesake's masterpiece, a 1988 1-10 campaign where Wisconsin didn't score more than 17 points in any game all season? If that performance is going to be worsted, it may come from top seed...
2018 Rutgers. This version of the Scarlet Knights may be the most vinegar-y vintage in their collection. While Rutgers did notch a 35-7 FBS win over Texas State, the committee clearly rewarded Rutgers for their body of work, which featured an 11-game losing streak in which they, almost in homage to Morton, also failed to exceed 17 points in any single game. Taking into account the much more wide-open college game in 2018, Rutgers may indeed be primed for offensive inachievement on a Morton-esque scale.
Still, Rutgers won't have a cakewalk. 2-seed 2012 Illinois can almost match them for offensive futility. Setting aside the 44-0 win over FCS Charleston Southern, Illinois didn't top 24 against any FBS foe. Indeed, the three times Illinois reached 24 each featured either a defensive score or a garbage time TD. While the Illini offense may be snooze-inducing, you sleep on their Final Four chances at your own peril.
And lurking as a dark horse could be the region's 3-seed, the 2002 Indiana Hoosiers. While Indiana went 2-9 (not counting an 8-point win over FCS William & Mary), the committee clearly took into account the Hoosiers' awful power numbers and looked past a 32-29 victory over Wisconsin (where Indiana erased a 29-10 deficit over a very uncharacteristic 17 minutes), focusing instead on a defense that surrendered 40+ points six times.
The committee seemed to do something similar with 4-seed 2015 Purdue. While the Boilers could brag of a 55-45 Halloween win over a bowl-bound Nebraska squad the committee was not fooled, and noted Purdue's overall body of work, namely an 0-10 record in other FBS games, and a defense the gave up 40+ on seven occasions. In short, we could see two moveable object vs. resistible force showdowns in the regional semis.
(11) 2012 Iowa vs. (6) 2016 Michigan State. Next up: (3) 2002 Indiana
(10) 2010 Minnesota vs. (7) 2003 Penn State. Next up: (2) 2012 Illinois
(12) 2001 Wisconsin vs. (5) 2019 Northwestern. Next up: (4) 2015 Purdue
(9) 2016 Illinois vs. (8) 2009 Indiana. Next up: (1) 2018 Rutgers
Breakdown by school:
Matchups will begin with the first round of the Peay regional. Each matchup will have a more thorough breakdown, including additional information about each team's "achievements" so you weigh your vote with the gravity it merits.